Five years ago, the Arizona men's tennis team went 9-16 overall and 0-7 in Pac-12 conference play. This past weekend on Sunday, the Wildcats celebrated their first ever conference championship in program history.
When thinking about what it means to him to help lead this Arizona team to the school's first ever men's tennis Pac-12 championship, head coach Clancy Shields simply said it means he will be bonded with the players the rest of his life.
"When you do something incredibly special, you know that 20 years, 30 years, 40 years, at their weddings and when their kids are born, this is something that will bond me to this group the rest of my life," Shields said. "That is the most special thing."
Shields has always talked about the hardest part of college tennis being winning on the road and the Wildcats did just that this past weekend, defeating Oregon and Washington in dominating fashion.
"I saw the determination," senior Filip Malbasic said. "Obviously we knew what was at stake going into this weekend and even though we lost the doubles point against a good Oregon team, we would never give in. We never gave up, kept doing what we have been doing all season, fought for every ball and focused on us and usually it ends up in a good result."
Shields talked about the amount of pressure on every player's back the whole weekend, knowing what they were playing for.
"I didn't sleep for the whole week," Shields said. "I know the guys weren't sleeping and how nervous they were. I mean we had a couple guys completely whiff the ball hitting it because they were that nervous, but they also had the ability to settle down and do what we needed to do. That experience is priceless."
"Playing with pressure and playing with expectations, to win a conference championship that's something never been done at your program that you love dearly, that is pretty cool," Shields said. "I think the thing I love the most is the guys were so nervous because they care so much. When you see your guys care that much and fight that much for the University of Arizona and our program, it makes your heart fill with joy."
The Wildcats next match will be in the Pac-12 conference tournament against either Washington or Oregon, the two teams Arizona just played. Shields knows it is not easy to not only beat a team twice in a season, but beat them twice in the same week.
"I think what we have been doing a lot is put yourself in their shoes," Shields said. "If they don't win this match, they're not going to the NCAA Tournament. It is like 'Gotcha, they're going to be coming out ready to play.' We're going to put ourselves in their shoes. We're going to try and come out and match their intensity and fight and we're going to try to take the match as important as they will. I know if our backs were against the wall and we had to win a match to get in the NCAA Tournament, we would be fighting pretty hard and I think that is our focus."
Not only is Arizona trying to win the Pac-12 Tournament, but it would also mean they get to host the NCAA Regionals, the first two rounds of the NCAA Tournament. Last year as part of the Cats run to the Sweet Sixteen, they traveled to Kentucky where they defeated the University of Michigan and the host Kentucky to advance. This year, the Cats have their eyes set on hosting a Regional.
"It would be awesome," senior Carlos Hassey said. "It has never been done before in our program, so it would obviously mean everything to us if we're able to host. We like our side here and we like playing in Tucson. It is going to be hot and other teams might not be used to that. We would definitely enjoy having the fans out too and getting to play two more (matches) at the Robson Tennis Center would be awesome."
Before the Regionals is the Pac-12 Tournament where Arizona is the No. 1 seed and will await the winner of Oregon-Washington on Wednesday. The Wildcats will play the winner of that match on Thursday.
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