Jan. 13, 2005
UCLA checks in at no. 2 to begin the year . . .
After finishing 2004 ranked No. 3 in Final ITA Poll, UCLA has once again been targeted as one of the early favorites to take home this year's NCAA title. The Preseason ITA Team Rankings feature NCAA Champion Baylor at No. 1, followed by UCLA, Florida, Georgia and Illinois. Rounding out the top-10 are No. 6 Mississippi, No. 7 Stanford, No. 8 USC, No. 9 Duke and No. 10 Virginia. Individually, Benjamin Kohlloeffel is ranked No. 8, followed by No. 14 Luben Pampoulov, No. 39 Alberto Francis, No. 61 Chris Lam and No. 99 Kris Kwinta. In doubles, Francis and Kwinta check in at No. 6 nationally.
Martin Enters 12th Season as Head Coach . . .
In 11 seasons as head coach in Westwood, Billy Martin has amassed an impressive 253-50 (.835) overall record since taking over in 1994 following the retirement of Glenn Bassett. He has guided the Bruins to five Pac-10 titles, including three second-places finishes at the NCAA Championships. In addition to nine 20-win seasons, he has never had a team finish lower than fifth at the NCAAs.
Returning Experience . . .
With six players who saw significant playing time in 2004 all returning, the Bruins are loaded with experience in both singles and doubles. With the exception of Tobias Clemens, UCLA returns basically the same lineup that took the court in the championship match in Tulsa, Okla. a year ago.
Pampoulov Perfect in Fall Play . . .
Bruin senior Luben Pampoulov didn't lose a match in fall play, going a perfect 10-0. After dropping just three sets in two tournaments, Pampoulov went on to win titles at the Racquet Club Collegiate Invitational in Midland, TX and the Southern California Intercollegiates.
Not to be Outdone . . .
Either inspired by the play of teammate Luben Pampoulov or perhaps just eager to take the court after redshirting in 2003-04, sophomore Benjamin Kohlloeffel turned in a fall performance worthy of recognition. In his first tournament as a Bruin, he captured the consolation singles title at the Racquet Club Collegiate Invitational. He then went on to win the Wilson/ITA Fall Regionals at Pepperdine, earning a spot in the main draw at the ITA National Indoors in Michigan. Kohlloeffel, who made it all the way to the quarterfinals at that event, had a 12-match winning streak in the fall and finished 13-2.
The Singles Lineup . . .
With one of the deepest teams in the country, coach Martin's biggest problems might be settling on a singles lineup. Although the top two positions are likely set with senior Luben Pampoulov (Dornbirn, Austria) and sophomore Benjamin Kohlloeffel (Herne, Germany), the Nos. 3-6 positions are almost up for grabs. Two players who will likely see the most time at Nos. 3 and 4 to begin the year are junior Alberto Francis (McAllen, TX) and senior Chris Lam (Honolulu). Francis, who played mostly at No. 4 last year, was a semifinalist at the Wilson/ITA Regionals in October and finished the fall 7-3 overall. Lam, who led the Bruins with 35 singles victories a year ago, split time between the Nos. 2 and 3 spots in 2004. With four players vying for two positions, the last two spots in the singles lineup will be the most hotly contested. Sophomore Philipp Gruendler (Weil Am Rhein, Germany) and senior Kris Kwinta (Poznan, Poland) offer the experience, however newcomers Jeremy Drean (Rennes, France) and Mathieu Dehaine (Meudon, France) will also likely see time in the bottom half of the lineup. Junior Chris Surapol (Whittier, CA) is also in the mix, however he has been slowed by an ankle injury suffered during the fall. Coach Martin readily states that the singles lineup could see a number of changes throughout the season.
Doubles Play . . .
Similar to singles play, where Pampoulov and Kohlloeffel are basically interchangeable, coach Martin has a pair of doubles tandems that are both worthy of playing in the top position. All-Americans Francis and Kwinta, ranked No. 3 in the preseason, are the logical choice to start the year at No. 1, mostly due to their experience. The duo recorded a 33-15 overall record a year ago and are coming off a fall in which they paired to win two tournaments. The Bruins' other likely tandem features lefties Pampoulov and Kohlloeffel. Pampoulov teamed with Philipp Gruendler in 2004, claiming the Pac-10 Doubles title, however he will see most of his time with Kohlloeffel this season. The Bruins' No. 3 doubles team could change depending on the match. Gruendler, Dehaine, Drean and a healthy Surapol all figure to see action in this part of the lineup.
French Connection . . .
Jeremy Drean and Mathieu Dehaine were two of the top junior players in France before deciding to take their act to the collegiate level. The two know each other very well, having represented their country at various junior tournaments throughout the world. In fact, Drean and Dehaine were the French Junior Doubles Champions as 16-year olds and were also teammates in junior Davis Cup play.
Providing Depth . . .
Of the players in the bottom section of UCLA's lineup, the two who have already seen action are redshirt sophomore Jason Nguyen (Chatsworth, CA) and redshirt freshman Jaysen Chung (San Jose, CA). Both were accomplished junior players and have teamed together this fall, playing in two tournaments. In addition, Nguyen played in nine tournament matches as a redshirt freshman a year ago. Rounding out the UCLA's 2005 lineup are sophomore George Chen (Santa Barbara, CA) and newcomer Chris Conway (Palo Alto, CA).