After an injury plagued season that saw the Sacramento State men’s tennis team down to just three healthy players two weeks before the conference tournament, the Hornets will begin the rebuilding process for the 2014-15 season after losing in the semifinals of the Big Sky Championship.
The Hornets took down Montana State on Friday, a match that started at 6 p.m. and lasted just before midnight. The momentum gained from the team was not enough to take down top seeded Weber State on Saturday afternoon. This marks the first time in six years that the Hornets are not champions of the Big Sky Tournament.
This season has seen every top player on the team go down with injuries. Junior Sean Kolar was unable to get healthy after knee surgery, so he made this year his redshirt season and juniors Marek Marksoo and Tom Miller have both battled injuries for the majority of the season. Men’s tennis head coach Slava Konikov said the injury situation is so rare it took him by surprise.
“This year was tough,” Konikov said. “For the last 10 years I have never seen so many health problems.”
All the problems could not tame the team’s confidence going into the tournament, but they did not have an answer for the Wildcats.
Two weeks ago, Sac State had three healthy bodies, forcing them to forfeit a match against Nevada. While the team had no other option, the timing between the last match and the tournament allowed the team to regroup just in the nick of time.
Sophomore Joaquin Marquez is the only Hornet this year that has been impervious to health concerns this year. While being healthy is great, he noted how hard it has been having the top players out of the lineup.
“[The injuries] were really tough for six or seven matches because I had to play at the (No.) 3,” Marquez said. “I had to move up because the other guys are not playing.”
In addition to Marquez stepping up, fellow sophomore Niranjan Ram has also had to step up, playing a large part of the season in the No. 2 spot. Konikov said a lot of the success the team has had is due, in part, to Ram.
“Niranjan has improved a lot over the past two years,” Konikov said. “He is doing so well, he is a positive guy. He is the model for everyone.”
The Hornets will also return all of their players next season. This season’s injuries have allowed the younger players step up and gain experience.
Redshirt freshman Christopher Clayton said he is already excited for next season. He said it will be a lot of work, but does not see it as a chore.
“I enjoy playing and I enjoy working out, so its not like I find it hard,” Clayton said. “It’s what I love to do so I find it easy.”
Another year in the books and another incomplete season. The Hornets have had 10 appearances in the NCAA tournament, but have yet to win. Since 2009 the Hornets have been to the tournament every year, with losses to Stanford twice, USC twice and UCLA once.
For assistant coach Kevin Kurtz, while the season did not go as expected, he is looking forward to the team staying intact and being stronger.
“Alejandro [Villarreal] stepped it up, Joaquin stepped it up and next year Chris will be starting, so I am excited,” Kurtz said. “Sean [Kolar] will be back, so that tentatively could put two guys in the top six.”
Although the season may be over, Konikov said tennis does not take a break from training. The Hornets have played their last game of the season and now that the offseason just started, Konikov said the team will have to prepare to take back the title.
“After conference I tell the team it is not finished,” Konikov said. “You have a break with your school, but you don’t have a break with your tennis and fitness and you guys need to be ready for next year.”