UH-Hilo tennis coach Kallen Mizuguchi has reasons to be optimistic and cautious.
As for the latter, look no further than the Vulcans’ encounter last season against Berry in the NCAA championships. The Florida school didn’t just win in the semifinals en route to taking the title, they then took what would have been UHH’s best returning player, Alessandro Guiliato, in the offseason.
Ace Vaclav Slezak, Guiliato’s former partner in doubles, did return, but as volunteer assistant coach.
“That’s why” I’m cautious, Mizuguchi said. “I feel like those two guys were two of the best players in the country. You don’t just replace that overnight.”
Still, the cupboard is far from bare for No. 10 UHH, which brings back Pacific West Conference freshman of the year Martin Soukal as well as former No. 4 Chun En Wu and welcomes Division I transfer Santiago Di Loreto.
“We return a lot of really good players, no doubt about it,” Mizuguchi said. “Those players that are coming back are stronger, smarter and overall better than they were a year ago.”
Coming off the best season in school history, UHH opens the season Friday at Mauna Lani’s Fairmount Orchid against UC San Diego, and Soukal will take on a bigger role after going 14-2 in singles and 17-3 in doubles. The 6-foot-5 Czech Republic native had the best doubles record in the conference and teamed to with Slezak to win a semifinal match against Barry.
Wu has a proven track record entering his junior season after going 8-4 in singles last season and 13-4 in doubles, while Luca Checchia (5-4 on Court 5) and Arturo Dell’Eva (4-5, Court 6) are likely to play more pivotal roles since Slezak and Guiliato aren’t on hand anymore to clinch team wins in short order while the back end of rotation was still playing.
Di Loreto played at South Alabama for two seasons. The Argentina native was on a Jaguars team that won the Sun Belt Conference tournament and reached the second round of the NCAAs. He had an 8-2 record at No. 6 singles.
“We have really good people, on and off the court,” Mizuguchi said. “We have great chemistry and are in good shape physically. It’s a long season and a lot can happen, but we are all really excited to see where all of this takes us.”
His women’s squad – which starts the season Friday against Stanislaus State at Mauna Lani – returns more of a familiar look after losing on one player, No. 4/No. 5 Hina Nishida, from a team that finished 5-12 in 2019.
Returning are Marina Colvee, Anouk Van Hoek, Sandra Dafincescu, Carmelle Joyner, Gabriela Aguilar Lawlor and Irena Le.
“They will definitely be better,” Mizuguchi said. “We improved a lot toward the end of last season, and injuries prior to that had a lot to do with our record. This year, they have had a full off-season and Fall of training. We have had a chance to address areas of weaknesses and work on improvement.”
Joyner and Van Hoek earned third-team all-PacWest honors last year in doubles, compiling a 10-5 record while mostly at the top of the lineup. Joyner was 8-3 in singles action while playing Nos. 2-4, while Van Hoek, went 5-7 mostly at No. 2. Colvee was 6-7 in singles at No. 1 and 9-7 in doubles, while Le put together a 7-9 mark in doubles and was 5-3 in singles. Dafincescu was 5-6 in doubles, and Lawlor was 5-3 in doubles and 6-8 in singles.
“We will set the line-up based on who is playing the best at the time,” he said. “Everyone is pretty close, so that helps create competition for all of the spots. It forces the girls to work harder and bring more energy to each practice.”