Cal Tennis Teams Host Asia University in Budding Tradition





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The stands are virtually bare and the score doesn't mean a thing. It may be the first match of the year, but it could very well be just a lazy Sunday-morning tennis game between old friends.

And in some ways, it is just a game between old friends. While the players may not speak the same language or remember each others' names, the match has a familiar feel to it.

Several years ago, Shoichi Horiuchi met Cal men's tennis coach Peter Wright at a tournament, and from a simple request, a new tradition was born.

"Coach Horiuchi wanted to bring his players, men and women, over to California so that they could have an experience outside of Japan," Wright said. "So I helped him work with other coaches from other schools, and we set up this trip."

So yesterday and for the past five summers, Asia University of Japan's tennis teams have cut their vacations short to come play against California schools. And each year, the Cal men's and women's tennis teams and Asia University have anticipated the meeting as a time to get back into the swing of things.

For Asia University, coming to California to play American college teams is a good learning experience.

In a country that churns out the latest technological advancements, the level of tennis isn't exactly among the world's elite.

Asia University boasts the best men's and women's teams in Japan, but they prove to be no match for American teams. And that's just the way Horiuchi wants it to be.

"We're the top university in Japan and we're used to winning the matches very easily," Horiuchi said. "I hope the American universities dominate us, beat us 6-0, 6-0. (The players) have to learn something."

And Asia's players appreciate the competition, which they seldom see in a country where most of the teams don't even have the funds to hire coaches.

"We can't beat them, but it's useful for us," Asia sophomore Yasuhito Toni said. "It's good because American teams have speed."

The Bears also benefit from this meeting, as they have a chance to test this speed and see exactly where they need to improve. For incoming freshmen, it's the first opportunity to show where they're at.

"We haven't seen most of the freshmen play against other people," Cal women's assistant coach Jun Hernandez said. "So it's nice getting to know their game more since we still have two weeks till our first competition. It gives us an idea what we need to work on."

But the competition is just secondary to the cultural experience that the meeting brings.

"We plan it as a friendly competition," Wright said. "The score really doesn't matter. It's more about the international relations. It's an enjoyable match for us."

And at yesterday's match, as has been done in the past five years, the players swapped school shirts and went out to grab a bite to eat afterwards.

"It's more of an exchange than anything else," Cal senior Erik Dmytruk said. " Everyone's out for fun, basically. It's a good way to start off the year. It's great for us and great for them. It's an interesting experience for both sides."

And if both coaches have their way it's an experience that's likely to continue for future players of both teams.

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