April 20, 2006
By Jason Cohn
With a young squad still searching for its identity this season, head coach George Husack has managed to put together one of the best recruiting classes in the nation for the Santa Clara men's tennis program next year.
According to recent rankings by the Tennis Recruiting Network, one of the premier junior tennis ranking services, the Broncos' freshman recruiting class is in the Top 20 in the nation.
Two local high school seniors -- Jay Wong, a Cupertino native attending Roddick-Moros International Tennis Academy in San Antonio, and Steven Benvenuto from Aragon High in San Mateo -- have signed Santa Clara Letters of Intent and are each currently ranked in the Top 50 nationwide. Benvenuto is currently ranked No. 42 in the nation and No. 2 in Northern California.
"Steven is a big, strong player with strong serves and forehands. His offensive-minded style of play will allow him to immediately have an impact and play well on all levels of college play," Husack said.
Wong, who just signed Wednesday, is currently ranked No. 38 in the country and has been ranked No. 1 in Northern California in the 16s and 18s Divisions.
Although Wong is still in high school, he already has a lot of experience as he has played internationally on the International Tennis Federation circuit, while competing against some of the best players at his age level in the world.
"Jay is an all-court player who is very aggressive. He has a great knowledge of the court and he has already proven himself to be successful on a national and international level," Husack said.
Although Husack has been watching these two phenoms since their sophomore years, he isn't taking all the credit for next year's exceptional recruits.
"My existing players were very much involved in the recruitment process. We have a philosophy to go after the best players in Northern California every year, and show them that Santa Clara is a great place to consider instead of going with the traditional Northern California tennis powerhouses of Stanford and Cal."
So far, this philosophy has worked well for Husack as the roster next year will be comprised of six Northern California players out of 10 total spots.
With the addition of these two freshmen to an already talented Bronco team, Husack is expecting good things next year.
"We will be competing for the conference championship just like this year, but we will also be aiming for a high national ranking next year," Husack said.
Yet Husack is leery of getting too ahead of himself with such a young and inexperienced team.
"Because our players are so young, it's not really all about the results at first, but about learning what Santa Clara tennis is all about, embracing the program and understanding what it takes to take their game to the next level."
With just one senior, Bobby Rasmussen, returning next year, Santa Clara will again be much younger than many of the teams they compete against next season.
However, the addition of two strong freshmen next season should help to offset the loss of junior Jan Macek, who will be graduating a year early.
Macek, who played as the top seed this season, will be sorely missed next year -- especially in conference play where he boasted a 5-0 record against the No. 1 seeds from all the schools Santa Clara defeated.
"I can't say enough about what he has done for this program as both a leader on the court and in the classroom," Husack said.
Although the news of two strong additions for next season has got to be encouraging for Husack's team, focus has by no means already shifted to next season.
With just two regular-season matches remaining, including the season finale at home against Saint Mary's, the Broncos are preparing to step up their level of play for the conference tournament.
"We've beaten every team in our conference that we've played except for Pepperdine, so I think we should get a No. 3 seed going into the tournament," Husack said.
Although the Broncos have struggled this season outside of conference play, Husack's young squad has been phenomenal in conference matches, going 5-0 before finally being shut down by the No. 2 nationally ranked Pepperdine Waves for their only conference loss of the season.
If Santa Clara gets its desired seeding and makes it past the first round, there is a good chance they would face the San Diego Toreros, a team the Broncos have not faced this season and will likely be seeded No. 2.
While the Toreros (12-5 overall) boast a better record than the Broncos (11-12), Husack points out that his young team is constantly improving, and their record does not reflect the level that they are playing at.
"This season has been a great learning experience for our team. Although they've improved a lot, we have yet to play our best tennis this season."
If Husack is right, the Broncos may turn some heads at this year's WCC Tournament.