Though the UCF Club Tennis team missed an automatic bid to nationals by one spot, cloudy skies gave way to a silver lining when the team took down Virginia Tech 30-18 for a third-place finish at the U.S. Tennis Association Tennis On Campus Fall Invitational in South Carolina Oct. 11.
UCF dropped a semifinal matchup, 26-23, to eventual-champion University of Georgia to fall into the third-place game in a tournament that consisted of more than 35,000 players from more than 600 college campus in the U.S.
“It was such a close match ... and obviously, we wanted a bid to go to nationals,” team captain Kleber Fukamizu said. “After we lost, we got together, and as a team, we decided that we were still going to fight for third place ... it was as if we were still fighting for the title.”
The Bulldogs defeated Boston College 24-15 as both teams received an automatic bid for the 64-team 2016 Tennis On Campus National Championships April 14 through April 16.
Founded 14 years ago, the UCF Club Tennis Team has about 80 members and hadn’t competed in the event since 2012.
“We knew that the opportunity was [still] there to go nationals,” said Fukamizu, a junior mechanical and Aerospace engineering major, referring to the rest of the five months before the April competition during which the team could possibly be considered for an at-large bid.
William House, a sophomore mechanical engineering student, has played on the team since last spring and said the players’ synergy and mental stamina made up for the setback.
“It was quite a roller coaster because at first, it was like, ‘OK, we lost this match’ — the match that could have gotten us the bid,” House said. “But then we thought, ‘Hey, this match still matters.’
“When you put your all in anything, you’re going to be disappointed when it doesn’t go through, but you have to turn it back around. ... There’s always something good to take out of it.”
House said it was a refreshing result to rank higher than close-competitor University of Florida, which won the 2014 and 2013 fall invitationals but placed fifth in this year's competition.
“We’ve had a lot of trouble beating UF … It has a lot to do with our own thoughts and fears,” he said. “It’s a very mental thing against us. We don’t believe we can win against them, and that’s what it comes down to.”
Linda Antonova did not let that hinder her, or the team’s, performance.
“We were all so happy with the team and how it played. Not that it didn’t matter that we didn’t win second or first place, but we were still really proud of how far we came and how well we played,” said Antonova, a sophomore hospitality major. “Now we have to try even harder to beat some of the great schools in Florida to make it to nationals.”
And despite not receiving the bid, Fukamizu said the team is determined to fight for a spot in nationals.
“We have practice three or four times a week, so we’ll be ready for nationals when the time comes around,” he said. “During our practices, we try to simulate what is going to happen in nationals.”
Nada Hassanein is a Digital Producer for the Central Florida Future. Follow her on Twitter at @nhassanein_ or email her at NadaH@CentralFloridaFuture.com.