College tennis is not a sport that gets too much national recognition, but it can be a lot of fun to watch if you are into the sport with all of the energy brought to the court by the players. That is no different for the University of Arizona men’s tennis team, who uses the energy and noise by the players to make up for the lack of fans this season.
“I like the energy that we have,” head coach Clancy Shields said. “A lot of coaches come in here and we don’t have any fans, but they feel like there were 100 fans because our team is creating the energy, so I like what we’re doing as a group. I think the energy is really good, the guys are being pretty professional in the way they approach getting better. We know we want to win the national championship. We know we want to win the conference and we know we got to get better.”
The Wildcats have started the season 9-1 with the only loss coming against then No. 9 Florida. They recently picked up a huge victory for their first ranked win of the season over Pepperdine, who was No. 22 in the country at the time.
“I mean beating any top-25 teams is hard,” Shields said. “They’ve got a lot of good players, good coach, but I think it’s with anything, like a determining factor in success is having success but that is kind of the catch-22. If you’ve never had that success, you don’t know how to do it and so kind of like knocking off those little milestones along the way is going to give us the experience that we need if we’re going to make a deep run in the NCAA tournament and in our conference.”
The Wildcats got a couple of gritty three-set wins in singles from senior Carlos Hassey and freshman Gustaf Strom to help fend the Wildcats off the Waves. Strom has led an impressive freshman class for the Wildcats this season alongside Jett Middleton, who are a combined 10-0 in singles play this year.
“[Strom], I mean he hasn’t lost a match in singles or doubles,” Shields said. “He is solid, he’s consistent, a winner and I kind of look at it as like he could go the whole season without losing. He’s that good, but you know it is inevitable things will happen, but he is just a tough out. He is one of the best competitors I have ever seen, so we’re incredibly lucky and we’ve got some other freshman who are pretty good too that we haven’t showcased yet, so we’re excited about that.”
They have been performing well not only in singles, but also in doubles play as well. Strom and senior Filip Malbasic are 7-0 together in doubles action so far this season, while Middleton is 4-1 with junior Jonas Ziverts. This is the type of doubles production that Arizona has missed in recent seasons.
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“I mean [Middleton] has been playing in our No. 1 doubles spot,” Shields said. “They’ve had some good wins over teams that are going to be ranked and he brings a ton of energy, kind of that youthful energy that we need and that spark. We’re 8-0 in doubles. I mean that has just never been our strong suit here, so to have that spark in doubles has been great.
One of the team leaders and captains of this Arizona team is senior Alejandro Reguant, who just last weekend broke the record for the most singles wins in the history of the Wildcats program, a record that was set by Reguant’s fellow countryman Roger Matalonga. The senior from Spain also set the new program record for most spring wins in the process.
“It means a lot to be honest, especially after seeing all these years that I’ve been here, seeing that a fellow countryman in Roger Matalonga; He’s always been an inspiration for me,” Reguant said. “It feel very good, but it feels even better to do it with a team like that with all the guys that are on the team. It means so much more than just breaking records. I am doing it for the guys and we always play for each other, so it was pretty special.”
Reguant, a fifth-year senior, never could have imagined he would still be able to play for the Wildcats one year ago today when it was announced that the season would be cut short.
“A year ago today, we were all bummed that the season got cut short,” Reguant said. “I thought my college career was over at that point and it was sad, but whenever they gave us the opportunity to come back, I did not hesitate a single second, so I am very happy to be with the team again.”
Reguant reiterated multiple times regarding his accomplishment that it was all about the team and not himself, a trait Shields noted himself that he has seen in the Spaniard during his tenure at Arizona.
“I thought the coolest thing was when he was interviewed after the match, he talked about the team and being unselfish is something that is uncommon these days and he is unselfish to a tee,” Shields said. “He loves his teammates; He does this for his teammates. I don’t want to think of a day that I’m not coaching him. I get emotional every time I think about it, like what’s this going to be like without a guy like (Reguant), so the wins is a nice accolade and records are meant to be broken, but more importantly the kid is the greatest kid I’ve ever had the pleasure of coaching. He is the total package.”
Reguant came back to Tucson to win and he likes what he has seen from the team after a hot 9-1 start where they are currently ranked No. 21 in the country according to the ITA team rankings.
“I think the team is in a very good place,” Reguant said. “I mean we set pretty high goals at the beginning of the season and we have to live up to them every day in practice. There are a lot of things obviously that we can get better at, but as of right now, I think we’re moving in the right direction and I’m very happy with all of the guys.”
The Wildcats spring season is just getting started with a tough schedule ahead that includes a trip to Texas next month where Arizona will play against two top-10 teams in the country in the Longhorns and Baylor. Arizona’s one loss so far this season came to a top-10 team, but that was back in January so these matchups will really be telling in how much this team has progressed since that defeat.
“We have a nice Texas swing," Shields said. "We're playing Baylor, who are No. 2 in the country and Texas who is top-10 in the country on national TV. We're playing Oklahoma, so we're going to kind of have three very tough matchups right there, but once we get into March, everyone we play is really good and we will see how good this team really is. Right now, we feel good about us but we'll see where we're at in a month. We'll see how good we really are."
In the conference, Reguant and his teammates have never beaten Arizona State, so that is a matchup the team has circled on their calendar, along with matches against USC and UCLA, the two other ranked Pac-12 schools.
"Every match in the conference is huge," Shields said. "We want to compete for the regular season, obviously playing ASU, I mean we've never beaten ASU and [Reguant] has never beaten ASU. That can not be his legacy. We know that, and we've circled that."
Reguant is aware of the tough schedule and wants to take the competition face on with his teammates as the Wildcats look to satisfy all of the goals they set prior to this season.
“I think everyday we have a good opportunity to beat good teams, so I just think we have to be ready every match,” Reguant said.
The Wildcats will open up Pac-12 conference play next weekend at home against Washington on Friday, Feb. 26, followed by a match against Oregon on Sunday, Feb. 28.
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