The Sun Devils aim to “own the West” as contenders in a strong conference with four top 25 teams
Four Pac-12 men’s tennis teams are currently among the Tennis Association of the United States top 25. Collectively, those teams have won 37 national team championships and 80 Pac-12 titles, including the last 11 that have been claimed outright.
ASU, which ranks 24th in that poll, has never won a title.
In a conference full of powerhouses like USC, UCLA and Stanford, ASU holds itself to the same expectation as those programs, despite currently in its fourth year since reentering as a program. Basically head coach Matt Hill said the Sun Devils, who are currently at 13-6 in the season, “want to own the West.”
Every time we play in conference play, we expect to win every game, Hill said. We think we have a team for that. “
Hill said he liked how the Sun Devils are “trending” in relation to the top-tier Pac-12 programs, a statement justified by their top-10 recruiting class from last season, which was rated higher than the classes. from both UCLA and USC.
The gap is also starting to close on the track. ASU started this season with a 3-64 all-time record against UCLA and hasn’t had a win at Stanford for decades.
Still, for the past eight days, the Sun Devils were on the cusp of their first win against both teams since the schedule was restored, falling 4-3 in a decisive third set in both games.
Senior Tim Ruehl said he thought ASU was clearly playing at a high enough level to beat UCLA, but it may not have been mentally equipped to do so, a sentiment echoed Hill.
We really let that slip, to be fair, Hill said. We feel like (if) we play them 10 times, we feel good about it.
Despite the loss, sophomore George Stoupe, who won the individual at No. 5 singles against UCLA, said the result was largely encouraging.
In a way, that gave us a lot of confidence that we could beat them, Stoupe said. Just knowing that we were in the right position to win on almost every track.
The Sun Devils also reached that level by scoring wins to the bottom of the lineup at Nos. 4 and 5 singles despite the absence of freshman Max McKennon, which started the year at No. 4 singles.
ASU’s performance against UCLA reflected the depth of the team allowing it to consistently survive short injuries from key players such as Ruehl and senior Makey Rakotomalala, who has played at No. 2 singles overall this season.
We have 10 men and the level is very high, “said Stoupe.” Every day we can lose to each other; were really right.
Hill said depth is the team’s greatest strength, noting that “a different man can show up every day to do the job,” and the team is therefore “not dependent on one man to win all the time.
We have players out of our lineup, who are not playing, who are definitely watching games against a really good school and sitting there and saying, ‘Hey, my friend is losing, but I think I can beat this guy,’ ”Hill said.
As ASU fights toe-to-toe with the conference’s traditional powerhouses thanks to that depth, strong doubles and a few nationally placed singles at the top of the lineup, Hill said he remains internally focused in his judgment of the progress of the program.
I don’t use them (the powerhouses of the conference) as a yardstick, because I don’t really care what they do, to be honest, “Hill said.” I know what I think we need to be a national championship, and that’s really the standard we’re thinking about and working on, what does it take to win a national championship?
Hill said that with the cultural development and talent of the team, he believes they are making progress toward that ultimate goal.
For now, however, Stoupe said that with two games to go in the regular season, the team is committed to achieving a goal they set for the season: winning the Pac-12 tournament.
“It is clear that we have what it takes to win the (Pac-12) tournament,” said Stoupe. “That is the end goal.
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