Second-ranked Texas has not been fazed by anything this year, not after 18-year head coach Michael Center was fired mid-season, not after falling in the Big 12 Championship game to Baylor, and certainly not now, as No. 24 California enters Austin for the NCAA Championship Round of 16 match on Saturday.
“This is the first year that being in the Round of 16 came with the possibility of hosting … in the past it’s always been the final 16 teams get to the final site,” interim head coach Bruce Berque said. “Usually you’re excited to get on a plane and move on to the final site. And this year, you know we’re just traveling locally from our apartments to the tennis courts … I think it’s more of a benefit.”
Berque first learned about the match with the Golden Bears just after Texas put the finishing touches on No. 37 South Florida, as junior Yuya Ito was being asked about his thoughts on the matchup. Berque’s response?
“It doesn’t surprise me.”
That mindset hasn’t changed, as Berque expanded on the strengths of California, which Texas swept in the second round of last year’s NCAA Championships.
“It looks like their strength is the bottom in the lineup,” Berque said. “They have (Bjorn Hoffman) that two years ago beat Yuya and now he’s playing number six. Number five would be a repeat match up between Colin Markes and Jacob Brumm … they’re pretty deep throughout but especially strong at the bottom of the lineup.”
Berque made sure to lavish praise on Markes, who stepped into the starting lineup after Adrian Ortiz missed this year due to surgery. Markes, the Austinite from Westwood High School, has stepped into the five spot and gone 18-3 in singles matches this year.
“That’s a guy who’s never been in the lineup consistently before in singles … but he’s worked his butt off in the summer as each of the last two summers,” Berque said of the senior. “Now he’s been one of our strongest spots, and I would say arguably the most improved senior in the country. He really relishes every moment he gets to compete on the court.”
Berque moved his attention to the one spot, focusing on junior Christian Sigsgaard’s development in his time at Texas.
"When he plays the way he’s supposed to play, which is up in the court taking time away from his opponents, aggressive tennis, powerful tennis, then he’s pretty special,” Berque said of the Big 12 Co-Player of the Year. “But when he doesn’t and he just sits back and rallies with the people he’s playing, he’s just a good player, an average number one player that’s really nothing special. He’s not a finished product yet but he’s definitely on the right path.”
And for the 25–3 Longhorns, the focus is all on the court, as it has been all year.
“I don’t think (the team is) amazed by what they’re accomplishing,” Berque said after the second round win over South Florida. “They’re confident, they’ve built a lot of confidence throughout the year. Right now, I think they’re enjoying what they’ve worked so hard all their lives, really, to have a chance to do.”