May 11, 2016
By Rob Moseley
Walking into the host venues for Oregon’s NCAA Regional match in Georgia two years ago, Jayson Amos experienced “sensory overload.”
NCAA Championship banners hung at the hotel and competition site. Top teams from around the country were on hand to take the first step toward a national title. Then just a freshman, Amos was spellbound.
“It’s a big deal,” Amos said. “You get that shiver down your spine.”
Two years later, the Ducks are headed back to NCAA Regionals, against Tulsa on Thursday in a region hosted by Oklahoma. This time, Amos is an experienced veteran. He’ll be counted on to help Oregon’s current freshmen process that “sensory overload” and get down to the business of what they came to do – play, and win, a tennis match.
“The adrenaline was a little higher than normal,” Amos recalled of Oregon’s 2014 regionals loss to North Carolina State. “But once the doubles point started, it went back to normal pretty quickly.
“You definitely have to use it to your advantage. If you’re not nervous, someone needs to check your pulse. That’s going to be normal. But you have to translate that into good, positive energy, instead of letting it take away from how you play.”
Thursday’s regional appearance is a milestone for UO coach Nils Schyllander and his longtime associate head coach, Jonas Piibor. For the first time, they’ll enter the NCAA Championships with players who have experience on this stage – Amos, who won his singles match in the 4-2 loss to North Carolina State in 2014, and seniors Daan Maasland and Brent Chin.
The NCAA bid caps a season in which the Ducks have already won 18 matches, the program’s most in 21 years. At midseason they were ranked as high as No. 20, the best in UO history. A year after being on the NCAA bubble and coming up just short of an at-large bid, the Ducks left no doubt this spring.
“It’s rewarding,” Schyllander said. “That’s what we’ve been striving and longing for, those years when you weren’t making it. This year we didn’t even have to worry on selection day, which was great.”
The Ducks cemented their NCAA at-large bid with a win-or-go-home victory over Arizona to open the Pac-12 Tournament. Schyllander expects the pressure of that moment – and Oregon’s poise under the circumstances – to be an asset when they take an even bigger stage Thursday against Tulsa.
“We needed that Arizona match to put us firmly in, and they knew it,” Schyllander said. “We didn’t talk much about it, but I could tell they knew it. They were definitely a little bit nervous in the beginning. And then once we got rolling, we rolled away with it. I’m sure that’s going to help us.”
That formula sounds strikingly similar to what Amos said he experienced two years ago at NCAA Regionals. It’s unreasonable to think the Ducks won’t be nervous, particularly with freshmen like Thomas Laurent and Armando Soemarno making their NCAA debuts. The key will be channeling it the right way.
But, Amos pointed out, “we’re a team that likes the big stage.” The Ducks won their season finale at No. 35 Washington before opening Pac-12 Tournament play with the win over Arizona, backing up Amos’ claim. He hopes that portends similar things to come Thursday against Tulsa.
Both the UW and Arizona matches began in what has become this team’s signature fashion: winning the doubles point. Schyllander has his Ducks completely bought in to the importance of coming out of the three doubles matches with a 1-0 lead in the team scoring.
Laurent, a freshman from France, said he was at first skeptical of how much the doubles point could influence a match. After all, it’s just one point. There are six more at stake in singles play.
“Now, I clearly see the difference,” said Laurent, who has teamed with Cormac Clissold to win 14 straight doubles matches. “After the doubles point, there’s one team clearly up. It’s not over, but that’s an important point.”
The Ducks experienced the other side of that equation in their second Pac-12 Tournament match. They lost the doubles point to Stanford, and the Cardinal’s momentum carried over into singles play. Oregon lost, 4-0.
Soemarno compared winning the doubles point to a boxer landing the first punch. The opponent may not be knocked out, but he’s back on his heels, right from the outset.
Soemarno has teamed with Amos to form a formidable tandem that enters NCAA Regionals 16-3. Both players prefer an aggressive style, Soemarno said, which helps them anticipate each other’s movement around the court.
“We know what the other one’s going to do, because our style is the same,” Soemarno said. “I think that’s our strength.”
The winner of Oregon’s match with Tulsa will play again Friday, against either Oklahoma or Texas-Arlington. Schyllander is cautiously optimistic the Ducks can extend their stay, particularly if they can continue their impressive play in the all-important doubles matches.
“Especially if we get the doubles point, there’s some spots in our lineup where we’re a tough out for anybody in the country,” the UO coach said.
After a one-and-done trip to regionals in 2014, then getting stuck on the bubble last spring, Oregon has bigger goals this spring than just making it back to the NCAA Tournament.
“I don’t think they’re going in with the same mindset,” Laurent said. “They were happy to be in the tournament two years ago; this time, we want to win a few matches.”