Finishing tied for fifth in the nation would be considered a great season for most teams, however the 1998 UCLA men's tennis squad which has reached the semifinals four times and the finals once under the direction of head coach Billy Martin, looks at their quarterfinal exit from the NCAA Championships with limited satisfaction.
Although the Bruins played their best tennis at the end of the year, a tough NCAA draw resulted in a meeting with arch-rival and eventual champion Stanford too early. UCLA finished with a 17-8 dual match record and went 5-2 in Pac-10 Conference action to tie USC for second place behind Stanford.
UCLA opened the season with six straight victories, but had that string of success end when they fell short in a close match at USC. The Bruins then suffered two losses at the National Indoor Championships falling to No. 15 Illinois 4-3 and No. 5 Mississippi 5-2, before rebounding for a 4-3 win over No. 9 Florida which started another six-match win streak. Included in that streak was a 5-2 revenge win over USC. Three straight Pac-10 road loses at Stanford, Cal and Washington left UCLA fighting for respect. The Bruins avenged two of those loses at home down the stretch, including an NCAA Regional win over Washington. UCLA opened the NCAA Championships at Georgia with a solid win over No. 5 Texas, before succumbing to undefeated Stanford in the quarterfinals.
Individually the best surprise of the year was the play of senior Vince Allegre, who was one of three Bruins to compete in the NCAA Singles Championships and claim All-America honors. Also impressive was the impact on the collegiate tennis scene of freshman Jean-Noel Grinda, who earned All-America recognition in singles and doubles and competed in both NCAA Individual Championships. Senior Matt Breen enjoyed a great final season and paired with Grinda in doubles to also receive All-America honors and competed in both the singles and doubles draws at NCAAs.
Anchoring the Bruins from the top slot all season was Grinda who finished with a 30-13 overall record and went 15-7 in dual matches. Securing the No. 2 slot was Allegre who finished with a team-high 40-14 overall record and went 17-7 in duals. Breen owned the No. 3 position, while compiling a 30-12 overall and 17-6 dual match record.
Injuries to two Bruins allowed five players to see action in the final three slots. Starting and ending the season in the No. 4 position was junior Jason Cook, who finished 24-9 overall and 8-5 in duals. Cook was 3-0 in duals before suffering a broken wrist in late January. Although he lost his first three matches upon returning to action in April, he won the next eight including defeating Stanford's Alex Kim in the regular-season finale and claiming the Pac-10 Championships Invitational title in Ojai. Also sidelined a good portion of the season with an injury was sophomore Brandon Kramer, who played primarily in the No. 5 and 6 slots and finished the season 20-13 overall and 10-8 in duals.
Moving up to play most of the season in the No. 4 slot during dual matches was senior Alex Decret who finished 22-14 overall and 14-9 in duals. Stepping in to play in the No. 5 and 6 slots, respectively, were redshirt freshman Chris Sands and rookie Noah Newman. Sands concluded the year 11-9 overall, going 3-3 in at No. 5 and 3-2 at No. 6 in duals. Newman finished 20-8 overall and saw all of his dual match action in the No. 6 slot where he went 6-3.
The highlight of doubles play came from the All-American team of Breen and Grinda which ranked No. 22 in the nation at the end of the season. This team reached the quarterfinals of the NCAA Championships, the semifinals at the Pac-10 Championships and posted a 21-9 overall and 14-6 record in the No. 1 dual slot. The No. 2 slot saw several pairings due to the injuries, but mostly featured Decret with Kramer or Newman. The No. 3 slot was also marked by several combinations with Allegre primarily teaming with Cook or Sands, but Cook and Newman wrapped up the season together during NCAA team play.
Although the Bruins were disappointed to exit the tournament so early, they were excited to remain the only team to compete in every NCAA Championship since the team format began in 1987.
Bruins in the 97-98 ITA Rankings Throughout the Year
PS Fall Feb. 1 2 3 4 5 Final Team 2 2 NTR 10 8 8 11 10 7
Singles PS Fall Feb. 1 2 3 4 5 Final Vince Allegre NR 4 9 17 4 10 13 11 16 Matt Breen 40 54 30 40 34 34 39 34 29 Jason Cook NR 70 77 67 74 84 NR 92 NR Alex Decret 33 92 - - - - - - - Jean-Noel Grinda 50 6 12 9 15 12 20 22 24
Doubles PS Fall Feb. 1 2 3 4 5 Final Allegre/Grinda - 25 34 - - - - - - Breen/Grinda - - - - 35 38 37 32 22 Breen/Decret 33 - - - - - - - -