CAL POLY SLO REFLECT ON MAGICAL RUN ATCOLLEGE TENNIS | USTA SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA
TENNIS ON CAMPUS NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP
TENNIS ON CAMPUS NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP
APRIL 20, 2023 | STEVE PRATT
CAL POLY SLO REFLECT ON MAGICAL RUN AT TENNIS ON CAMPUS NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIPUSTA SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA
APRIL 20, 2023
Top: Cal Poly SLO captain Derek Sung at the Tennis on Campus National Championship in Surprise, Arizona; Bottom: full Cal Poly SLO club tennis team.
(Photos – Jon Mulvey/USTA SoCal)
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All the stars had aligned, and it was looking like this was finally going to be the year Cal Poly-San Luis Obispo’s USTA Tennis on Campus team would hoist the national championship trophy.
With California rivals UC-Berkeley and two-time defending champion UCLA eliminated early, the deep and cohesive Mustangs’ squad led by captain and top men’s player Derek Sung rolled through Ohio State, Yale and Columbia in pool play, and then took out Stanford, Washington, Minnesota and were left facing Virginia in the final match.
After a 6-2 doubles win on the men’s side, and a 6-2 loss for the women, Cal Poly singles player Sofia Barale recorded a 6-2 win followed by a tough 6-4 loss by Sung in men’s singles.
“There was a ton of pressure on us right there with a two-game lead heading into the final mixed doubles,” Sung said one week after the sting had subsided a bit – but not totally left – following Cal Poly’s 6-2 loss in mixed doubles and ultimately ended the match in favor of the Cavaliers, 22-20.
A third-year Engineering major from Carmel Valley in San Diego County, Sung said there was something special about this team and the closeness they all felt on their march to the championship in Surprise, Arizona.
“We knew we had a shot of winning,” said Sung. “Last year after our sixth-place finish we had the experience. This year, the bracket seemed to open up for us when UCLA and then Berkeley lost. We knew Virginia was going to be tough because they had beaten Northwestern who had beaten Berkeley.”
The 20-year-old Sung said his team had “crazy depth” led by Barale, the one-time four-star recruit from Florida. “We have the best five guys and girls I’ve seen in my life,” he said. “We can put out three to four different people out each match because our depth is really extensive.”
Sung said growing up and training on the UC-San Diego campus near his home, he always had the dream of playing Division I tennis, or college tennis at any level.
“When my senior year rolled around, I didn’t think I would really enjoy it,” said Sung, who played for Canyon Crest Academy and was teammates with Ohio State-bound and top recruit Bryce Nakashima. “With my major I knew it would be a tough balance between work and playing would be pretty tough. A lot of guys who play Tennis on Campus have the same decision. They may be good enough to play varsity, but fear the work balance between academics and tennis might be too tough.”
Sung played USTA SoCal tournaments as a junior and was around top 20 in the 14s and top 50 in the 16s in the most competitive junior section in the country. Breaking his ankle sliding for a ball and missing eight months didn’t help his cause as he missed his entire junior year of high school tennis.
Sung said he often practices next to several of his buddies on the current Big West Cal Poly Division I team, but has no regrets about taking the club tennis route. “I’m really not sure how aware or up to date they are on us,” Sung said. “It’s pretty cool sometimes just to be practicing next to them. It kind of puts it all in perspective. There are so many levels of this game.
“A lot of people think it’s just for fun and that it’s just recreation tennis, but we have some really good players who could play varsity. They simply chose not to play because of the time commitment involved. But it’s still at such a high level.”
All in all, it was a great year for Cal Poly-SLO Tennis on Campus. Other team members that played in the final match included: Rachel Post and Bailey Smolinski (women’s doubles); Alexi Delisle and Sam Ashbrook (men’s doubles); and Ryan Hahn and Sofia Barale (mixed).
Sung said the finals experience gained will only help the Mustangs and they will be back stronger and deeper next year. And hope to get one more win farther than this year.
Look back on the Mustangs’ fantastic run to the National Championship finals by checking out the posts on our Instagram page @ustasocal.
View photos of all six Southern California teams who competed at Nationals in Surprise on our PhotoShelter page.