Entering Head Coach Curt Wheeler’s sixth season, the women’s team will be without its top two players from last season in Carolina Cuevas and Nikki Newell, while the men’s team will be missing four key 2018 players in Grant Alston, Jack Alston, CJ Erion and Brendon Millington. Both teams had by far their best seasons in Wheeler’s tenure last year, with the women’s team going 18–7 and the men’s team earning a regionals bid at 14–10.
Despite the drastic roster changes, the primary goal remains the same: to make regionals and set the teams up for postseason success.
“I think our expectations every year is to make regionals,” said Wheeler. “That’s always an optimistic but realistic goal. Both our teams last year had great years; both probably should have made regionals. Outside of that, we as a whole focus on process goals even more than just accomplishment goals. If we can play our best tennis match-in and match-out, I think we have a great chance of reaching those end goals.”
Wheeler admitted that graduating players from last season will be missed, but felt that the current groups are in a position to succeed.
“It definitely will have an impact,” said Wheeler. “On the women’s side, it was our top two players. On the guys’ side, it was four of the guys that played in our doubles lineup, and three of the four were in our singles as well. But we have a great group of juniors and seniors that are hungry and ready to step into those shoes. And we have some new players that have really fit the team well and are ready to contribute… I think they all will have an impact.”
Key acquisitions for the women’s team include freshmen Sofia Johansson and Samantha Neilson, while the men’s team added freshman Jasdeep Paintal and graduate student Scott Wheeler, Curt’s youngest brother.
“I lived here freshman year when I just moved out of the house,” said Scott Wheeler on joining his brother’s team. “I would come here when he was coaching and just string rackets and hang out. I never thought I would be able to play here or go to school here. Not even until November of last year did I have the chance to come here…it’s great to join a great group of guys and work towards a bigger goal.”
Jasdeep Paintal, who showed excitement for the upcoming season, could already sense a different tone and culture while on the Sea Lions compared to his recent years before college.
“It’s much different,” said Paintal. “High school tennis was more of a relaxed environment. When you come here, it’s very serious, very intense, and you’re always working to get better.”
Junior Ellie Gamble also mentioned a notable aspect of playing on a college team: focus towards the team as a whole.
“I think in juniors, tennis is such an individual sport, that coming into college it’s really nice to focus on how the team does, as opposed to just how you do,” said Gamble. “Sometimes it’s hard to keep that mentality.”
Speaking of team focus, Nicole Camaratta, one of only two seniors on the women’s team, mentioned that the incoming freshmen will be an important group to watch.
“There’s only nine of us,” said Camaratta. “Everyone’s going to play an important role. It’s going to be really exciting to see our freshmen and their performance this season. It’s been great having them so far.”
As of this writing, the next home match for both teams will be against Azusa Pacific—the defending PacWest champions—on Saturday (11 A.M. for the women’s team, 2 P.M. for the men’s team).
“We’re facing APU, who won the PacWest championship last year and finished fourth in the nationals,” said senior Thomas Dafcik. “They always have a strong team, and we play them at home. It’s going to be a huge test to us at the beginning.”