Gal Hakak, a 21-year-old freshman and veteran of the Israeli military, is in one of the youngest lineups Matt Anger has had in two decades as Huskies coach. Captain Max Manthou is UW’s only senior entering tonight’s opener against Portland (6 p.m., GoHuskies.com).
By Gregg Bell
UW Director of Writing
SEATTLE – The Huskies could wear something more than the purple, W logos on their jerseys for the opener to their 2014 men’s tennis team’s season.
How about name tags?
Four freshmen are among the 10 Huskies who will rotate through singles and doubles play beginning Thursday at 6 p.m. against Portland at UW’s Nordstrom Tennis Center -- with live streaming coverage here on GoHuskies.com -- as coach Matt Anger seeks a winning combination for his 20th season at Washington.
Anger is UW’s all-time leader in tennis wins. His teams have made the last 19 NCAA tournaments. Yet he can’t recall any of those previous Husky lineups having just one senior, as this one does with veteran captain Max Manthou.
“It’s funny, we definitely – I don’t want to say have some doubts – but we don’t know exactly how this season is going to progress,” Anger said on the eve of the first match of Washington’s dual season. “But we’ve already shown an unbelievable work ethic. Because of that, I am confident we are going to play better each month.
“It will be interesting for us. We have four freshmen – and two of them arrived just last Monday,” for the start of the current academic quarter.
Those newest of the newcomers will be competing as Huskies Thursday on their 11th day on campus. Michael Chamerski is from the Seattle suburb of Mill Creek and Daffra Sanon is from Paris. Anger knew of the French teen because he had tried to recruit his uncle to UW 15 years ago, when the coach spotted Sanon’s uncle playing for Ivory Coast in the international Davis Cup.
Anger said both Chamerski and Sanon will rotate among the six Huskies he will use on early in the season for singles and doubles matches. Those matches will remain inside though the USTA/ITA National Team Indoor Finals Feb. 14-17 in Houston. Outside play begins after that, culminating with the Pac-12 championships April 23-26 in Ojai, Calif., and the start of the NCAA championships May 10.
The Pac-12 is loaded again. Conference-rival UCLA is back after coming within a net violation on match point against Virginia from winning last spring’s NCAA tournament. USC had won the previous four national team championships.
Manthou, the champion of UW’s Nordstrom Open, was a semifinalist in two other fall tournaments and was 4-0 in the Hawai’i Invitational during the recent individual season. He is the most consistent Husky entering this spring season. Anger said junior Emmett Egger from Issaquah, Wash., and 21-year-old freshman Gal Hakak are right behind Manthou as the top three in Washington’s match lineup.
Right behind them: Jeff Hawke, a junior from Rolling Hills Estates, Calif.; junior Viktor Farkas from Bratislava, Slovakia; and then either Chamerski, Sanon or redshirt freshman Wendell Watanabe of Duvall, Wash.
Ari Strasberg, UW Class of 2003 and a four-year letterman for Anger over a decade ago, helped Hakak become a Husky. Like Strasberg and other Israeli young men, Hakak served three mandatory years with the Israel Defense Force.
“Not many of our guys have been holding the weapons that Gal is used to holding,” Anger deadpanned.
That includes his racquet.
“He hits the ball very well. Right away, that really stands out,” Anger said of Hakak, who impressed the coach and his new Huskies during the individual tournaments this fall.
For Hakak and his Husky teammates, the spring dual-match season is an adjustment from the fall – and from all the tennis they played before they got to UW.
Just another reason Anger isn’t completely sure what he will get with this young team beginning Thursday night.
Yet he has always found a way at Washington. Last season’s 18-12 team completed the Huskies’ 19th consecutive winning season under Anger; the four seasons immediately preceding Anger’s arrival UW had been 38-46. Last season the Dawgs advanced out of the first round of the outdoor NCAAs for the third consecutive spring. They lost in the second round of the NCAA tournament at Ohio State on a day now-departed senior Marton Bots was forced to miss because of a back injury.
These Huskies are far younger than those.
“For most young guys, and even the internationals, college tennis -- guaranteed -- is tougher than they think,” said Anger, who arrived at UW in 1995 and won the Huskies’ first conference title 10 years later. “It’s just a whole ‘nother level of doing anything they can to beat you.
“In junior tennis you can pick and choose what tournaments to play in, and if you aren’t feeling up to it you can choose to sit one out. Here, you have to bring it every match day for your team.”
Even, as with these Huskies right now, when your team doesn’t fully yet know who you are.