It has been a little over 24 hours since our 5-hour marathon loss to Baylor occurred in the NCAA Round of 16 up here in Palo Alto. Last night it was mere shock but today it has been anything but–I woke up nauseated thinking about how close we were and how we won’t be playing another match. The pain is still there like a stinging rebuke to my insides. Admittedly, I feel horribly empty with how we ended the season with so much tennis left to be played. And most troublesome, my heart still heavily aches just thinking about “what could have been.”
But as the saying goes, time heals all wounds…and surely the sheer hurt from this match will subside. And once that pain, that disappointment, that frustration, and that hurt disappears, pride will take its place; pride for our school, pride from of our effort, pride for each other. As Coach Martin said in our post-match meeting late last night, we have absolutely nothing to be ashamed of and absolutely everything to be proud of. We all fought with every ounce of our hearts and souls and laid it out there on the court (and in the stands); we lost to a great Baylor team who literally won one more point than we did. And that is sports–a game of inches. Coach Martin always said–and reiterated at our final meeting–that it takes courage to put yourselves out there for that jubilating win and yes, that heartbreaking loss. We did that and unfortunately, ended up on the wrong side of the equation. But again, this “heartbreak” will fade and the pride for what we did accomplish and the courage we did show–together–will grow.
You know, some people say that all of this tennis business is about winning an NCAA Championship. And you know what else? Two or three years ago, I would have completely agreed with that statement. Heck, I would have been willing to do just about anything for that coveted NCAA ring and to waive that championship banner. And in many ways I still would, no doubt. But as I leave college tennis forever (I think, at least), I’ve grown to realize it not really about winning the championship. Sure, don’t get me wrong, winning would of been beyond amazing and extremely memorable; I’m the most competitive guy in the world and I still can’t stand losing. Yet, while we might of lost on paper, we did not lose as people–as growing adolescents in this thing called life. Because playing sports and being part of team–no, part of an institution such as UCLA tennis and a program with such great people–is about so much more. It’s about personal growth, learning responsibility, developing a work ethic, trusting other people, and pouring your heart (and every ounce of sweat, in this case) into something that you can be proud of and forever a part of. Seeing alumni who played for UCLA thirty years ago and just a few years ago is downright inspiring. Simply put, I am a drastically different person than I was when I started with the team four quick seasons ago–and a better person because of those four years. No, I didn’t win a championship that I wanted and truthfully, thought I would be a part of when I started. But, what I understand now, is that I gave this team and this program everything I could and got out of it everything and more. And in return, I received lasting friendships, unforgettable memories, and grew as not just a competitor and manager–or in many players’ cases, as an athlete–but as a person navigating college and navigating who I was as I grew up from a kid to a young adult.
There is so much to say about this match, this season, and my own experience as a Bruin the last four years–you know me, I could write forever. But what I also have understood is that it is not about me or about any one person, but about the team and the life of this program. As Coach Martin also always says and knows from experience, college sports are a “revolving door.” Myself, Amit, and Holden may all be gone next year, but UCLA tennis will carry on–with new bloodlines and new players, but with the same excitement and passion. Such is the life of college sports and no matter how unfortunate it is, it is the reality we all must embrace.
And on that note, this may seem like a “goodbye post,” but truthfully, it is not–it is only a “see you later” type of message. Players will be gone and I will move into the next stage of my life (I will be pursuing a Masters degree at Columbia University in New York), but not without a lasting passion and portion of my heart always dedicated to UCLA tennis. We may not have won the big championship this year, but I won by being a part of such an amazing community of people–and to “manage” (so to speak) under such incredible, warm, and caring coaches. We all win by being a part of UCLA tennis. It is this connection and spirit that for me and for all of us will never, ever fade. It is why we drive up 500 miles to see the Bruins play and why we wear the blue and gold with so much exuberance on and off the court. And above all, it is why Bruin tennis will only continue to get stronger in the months and years ahead.
Before I sign off one final time, it is only appropriate to discuss a few pressing matters. First, I want to congratulate both Amit Inbar and Holden Seguso on extraordinary Bruin careers. Both gave much to UCLA tennis and each had some enormous moments that I know each will cherish–I speak on behalf of Bruin nation when we say “thank you” for all you have given to this program. All the best in the years to come. No matter where life takes both of you, each will always be a Bruin.
And second, good luck to next year’s team–truthfully, in my heart of hearts I know it will be a special year for UCLA tennis. And not just because of the insane amount of talent coming back on next years team, but because of the character of each returning player. Daniel, Clay, Adrien, Alex, Warren, Max, and Nick, you all have extremely bright futures in this sport and are each going to do special things next year and in years to come. We all cannot wait to watch it all! You have everyone’s support as you continue (or conclude) your Bruin careers.
Last of all, thank YOU, our loyal Bruin supporters for everything–I personally am indebted to your support and I know the team is too. I talk about how special it is to be a Bruin, and YOU are all the reason why. So thank you for all you do for this team and a personal thank you for reading (and commenting) on this blog. I hope to stay in touch with you all and you can of course follow me on my personal blog, too, which I will shift over to immediately.
Anyway, it is with a deep sense of gratitude and humility that I sign off one final time as a member of the UCLA Bruin tennis team; it is still hard to believe how fast four years have flown by and hard to accurately reflect on all my emotions and feelings in one final (and readable!) blog post. The only appropriate thing to sum everything up is through a simple, but powerful phrase that my high school English teacher once told my class. It was from a poem and he said that no matter what we do in life, MAY GREAT KINDNESS OF IT IN THE END. Well, my friends, as I have hit the end of my “official” Bruin tennis career, I can undoubtedly say that great kindness, indeed, came of it in the end.