The CMS men’s tennis entered the Ojai Valley Tennis Tournament with high expectations. Great individual and team performances have given the Stags top rankings within the west region, bolstering their confidence for the upcoming NCAA tournament.
A squad of eight players came to the event—Captain Larry Wang CM ’09 and Robbie Erani CM ’12 held the highest seeds in the singles tournament and the doubles featured Wang with Mikey Lim CM ’10 and Erani with Ron Wu CM ’11 at the third and sixth seeds, respectively. The Stags, by mandate of this large tournament, which hosted over fourteen different draws of men’s and women’s tennis, played at three different sites over the span of the competition.
At their first location, the results were mixed for CMS. With four first round wins and three byes for the top seeds, all Stags moved into the second round. Here, four made it through the fray to reach the next location of singles matches. Russell Brockett CM ’10 put in some serious sweat equity in a three set victory over the Cal Lutheran number two singles player and Wang, despite a slow start after senior thesis completion, won after dropping one set to Alan Estareja, the University of La Verne’s top player. Meanwhile in the doubles draw, three duos dropped in the second round, leaving Erani and Wu with the collective hopes of the team.
At the second location, the Thatcher School, the Stags again went to work with some bolstered fan support. In the third round singles matches, CMS found themselves in a preemptive battle against the UC Santa Cruz Banana Slugs, who made up all four opponents that morning. Captain Wang won routinely against one of the Slugs’ biggest hitters, regaining his normal form, while Mikey Lim put on an inspiring performance, handing the number two singles player from Santa Cruz a crushing 6-0, 6-3 loss. Next off the courts was Erani, not so lucky this time, falling to the tournament defending champion and number three player for the Slugs who worked through Erani with smart shot placement and some fortunate outcomes in critical points. Brockett, last off of the first round, found himself in yet another battle against the top seeded Santa Cruz player and winner of the West Regional tournament in the fall. A 6-1 drop of the first set did not bother Brockett as he fought and brought the match to the limit, but, in slipping on his towel at the back of the court in the final point, fell in the second set as well with a score of 7-5. For the second round of matches, Wang and Lim were prepared for battle as the seeds became much more competitive.
In round four, Erani and Wu matched up against the number one duo of Redlands, Lim played the top player of Cal Lutheran, and Wang played the number two from Washington University in St. Louis. While Wang posted a routine win, the other two matches featured come from behind wins from Stag opponents, a long comeback posted by the Redlands duo and cramps slowing Lim just enough for a loss. As the second day of play ended, the CMS numbers had dwindled to one, with expectations riding high, as no Stag had ever won a singles title in the history of this tournament.
Wang, on the morning of the third day, faced off against the number one player from UC Santa Cruz, a match that will be repeated this coming Saturday. Both players showed signs of weariness, but it was the Stag who stayed the course and won this battle 6-3, 6-4. Next up was John Watts, a player considered to be the top player in the nation, a junior out of Washington University, hot off a season undefeated against Division III opponents, including dual victories over defending national champion Michael Greenberg of Kenyon. Side-by-side with the men’s and women’s Pac-10 singles finals, Wang began his match shakily and fell behind 0-2 in the opening set.
Upon seeing the arrival of several fans, Wang mentioned later, “I was able to loosen up and be more comfortable with the venue and the match.” From there on out, he did not look back and played with an assurance that allowed him to take big risks and feel confident in the results. Depsite never before having defeated Watts, Wang cruised to a 6-4, 6-2 victory to claim his first individual tournament title as a Stag and the first singles CMS crown at the Ojai Division III singles tournament. After the match, Larry’s play was referenced as what Ryan Berber CM ’09 has deemed “Weezy Mode,” where his shot making and speed become unmatched.
Wang’s victory over a Banana Slug in the semifinals of this tournament gave the official advantage to the Stags at Ojai and prefaced the match to come this weekend very nicely as he will hopefully lead the team to victory over the Santa Cruz team. This coming dual match has great importance because of its implications of the home advantage in the West region final most likely between CMS and Santa Cruz, where the winner will go on to nationals, and the loser will stay at home. The Stags will look to repeat their positive results from this weekend over the Slugs and make a bid to take the national title at home this year, with Captain Larry Wang CM ’09 leading the charge with this year’s Ojai singles title under his belt.