CLAREMONT, Calif. (May 2, 2018) – The 33rd-ranked Caltech men's tennis team will pay a visit to 11th-ranked Pomona-Pitzer Colleges on Friday for the SCIAC Semifinals. 2018 marks the first year of the conference moving to a four-team tournament and the third-seeded Beavers became the first Caltech team to qualify for the four-team playoff. Head Coach Mandy Gamble and the Beavers have not played the Sagehens since their season opener on Feb. 10, and came one victory away that day from getting to play their conference adversary in Pasadena instead of Claremont.
Caltech's freshman additions have given the Beavers new life and have already rewritten the single-season record books. Varun Shanker (Midland, Mich. / Midland Dow) headlines the team's rookie trio and accrued an 11-6 record during the regular season, playing all his matches at first singles. The West region's 13th-ranked player will most likely face off with the region's second-ranked player, Jed Kronenberg. Kronenberg came out victorious in the pair's first meeting but the young Beaver's improvements will be on full display when the two players meet again.
Shanker most recently added a quarterfinals appearance at the 118th Annual Ojai Valley Tournament and went on an incredible, unseeded run to the tournament's doubles championship alongside doubles partner and classmate James Wei (Chappaqua, N.Y. / Horace Greeley). Wei quickly ascended to his current role as the team's second singles player and cruised to 15 regular season singles wins to become the new single-season record holder in singles and doubles wins, as he and Shanker picked up 12 wins as a unit to surpass the Pathireddy brothers' 2015 season. Wei entered Ojai as the seventh seed and has garnered respect in recent ITA rankings despite his doubles partner taking top singles billing. The most recent rankings have Wei ranked 14th, right behind Shanker and should allow him to be favored slightly when he takes on likely opponent Octave Bellet. Bellet is the region's 16th-ranked player but did not play against Caltech three months ago. Wei won his match decisively at fourth singles and even though he'll be moving up from the two teams' previous meeting, the youngster has been largely unphased by playing in the top half of the lineup, evident in his .882 winning percentage as a rookie. Wei and Shanker came two games away from coming out on the winning end against Kronenberg and partner Kalyan Chadalavada previously but the Sagehens have mixed and matched their doubles teams on a week-to-week basis. The Beavers' freshman duo's excellent form, however, will give them a chance to turn the tables on Friday.
Junior Derik Nguyen (Anaheim, Calif. / Canyon) had perhaps his biggest singles triumph of the season the last time Caltech played Pomona-Pitzer. Nguyen rallied from one set down to defeat Marko Mandic, 6-3, 6-4 in sets two and three at third singles. With Bellet's inclusion in the Sagehens' lineup, however, Nguyen will likely be facing a new opponent, especially with the ascension of freshman Kevin Yu (Mason, Ohio / Cincinnati Country Day) up the Beavers' pecking order. At the top of his game, Nguyen has shown an ability to keep pace with almost any opponent he has come in contact with and could very well push Gearou if they indeed have to play one another. Perhaps overshadowed by Shanker and Wei's big rookie seasons, sophomore Miha Valencic (Colleyville, Texas / Grapevine) has quietly had one of the better single seasons for the Beavers in recent memory. Valencic's 13 wins this year are good for third all-time, and now sits at fifth in the career record book. Valencic handled Jacob Schoenerr in the previous meeting but could be looking at multiple opponents depending on if he plays fourth or fifth. Yu also quietly proved himself this year and like his rookie counterparts found his way into last weekend's tournament in Ojai. Yu could play third or fourth after spending most of the season at fifth and sixth singles. Junior Zixiao Li (Coppell, Texas / Coppell) slotted in at second singles back in February but will likely could occupy the sixth spot this time around, giving the Beavers an experienced presence at the bottom of the lineup.
The 2018 season has been perhaps the Caltech men's tennis team's greatest season ever and has a chance to viewed on an even higher pedestal should they find a way to come out on top when they visit the Sagehens on Friday. The match is set for a 3 p.m. start time.