Tennis: Vulcans eye berth at NCAA championships

  • UHH photo Alessandro Giuliato, left, and Chun En Wu will be key to UH-Hilo's NCAA hopes Sunday against Azusa Pacific.

It’s been a little while, but Kallen Mizuguchi is primed to make his triumphant championship tennis return on the Kohala Coast.

Nine years ago last Wednesday, Mizuguchi secured the crowning achievement of his playing career, teaming with Kaito Mizutani to claim an HHSAA doubles championship as Waiakea Warriors at Holua Resort.

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In a phone interview Saturday as UH-Hilo got to its West Hawaii hotel, Mizuguchi said he was more nervous during his playing days compared to what he’s gone through during his first season as the Vulcans’ men’s tennis coach. Take UHH’s semifinal win against Azusa Pacific last month in the Pacific West Conference tournament.

“I really wasn’t that nervous,” he said. “I was pretty confident that things would play out.”

On Sunday at Fairmont Orchid Tennis Center, Mizuguchi hopes to achieve the crowning achievement of his brief coaching career – at least for now. The Vuls and Cougars face off in a regional rubber match for a spot in the NCAA Division II championships.

No last-minute motivational speeches are necessary, Mizuguchi said.

“Like I’ve told the team all year, I wouldn’t trade this team for any other,” he said. “They are good tennis players, but they are even better individuals.”

The No. 3 Cougars (23-3) beat No. 2 UHH (12-4) 4-3 at home in late March, earning the doubles point by winning all three matches.

Mizuguchi felt the Vuls weren’t as aggressive as they needed to be, so he switched things up for the rematch, breaking up his No. 1 doubles team of Vaclav Slezak and Alessandro Giuliato.

Slezak and Martin Soukal won, and Giuliato and Chun En Wu didn’t have to finish their match as the Vuls wrapped up a 4-1 victory, also getting a doubles win from Luca Checchia and Alan Cincunegui.

The team attended Slezak’s graduation Saturday before making its way to the Kohala Coast, and it’s the all-PacWest senior who will have to once again do the heavy lifting. He’s lost twice so far to PacWest player of the year Jakob Schnaitter, both times in straight sets.

“The matches were competitive,” Mizuguchi said. “Jakob was able to get confidence and hit shots.”

At No. 2, Giuliato defeated Ryan Nuno in straight sets in their first meeting before a third-set tiebreaker went unfinished as the Vuls clinched their win last month. Soukal, the league’s freshman of the year, has defeated two different opponents this season, while Wu on Court 4 has split against two foes, as has Arturo Dell`Eva while splitting time between Nos. 5 and 6. Checchia twice has handled his business, including a three-set win last month at No. 6.

Mizuguchi and Kaito Mizutani still stand as the last BIIF boys tandem to strike gold at states.

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“It was a great experience,” Mizuguchi said. “It’s something I’ll never forget.”

Minus the nerves, he hopes Sunday is just as memorable.

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