By Dave Loveton, SBCC Sports Information
Fresno City College got a huge boost from its No. 3 doubles team and Scott Gray and Alec Bessinger posted singles wins on Wednesday as the Rams beat Irvine Valley 5-2 to capture their third straight CCCAA Men's Tennis Team Championship.
Bessinger, the younger brother of first-year Fresno coach Hank Bessinger, rallied for a 4-6, 6-2, 6-4 win over Kevin Pham to secure the victory at Ventura College. Fresno, the No. 1 seed in Northern California, completed a perfect dual team season (18-0) and extended its winning streak to 58 straight matches.
"We started out up 3-0 after doubles and maybe we came in with too much confidence," said Bessinger, a sophomore from Clovis East. "They fought really hard and came out strong in singles. You start thinking that maybe someone else on your team will get the job done. Then, you realize that you just have to get out there and get it yourself.
"For all the guys on my team and my coach being my brother and also Coach Loop (Steve Loop, the former head coach who's now an assistant), it's pretty exciting and pretty unique."
Adrien Varenne/Alec Bessinger and Matt Alves/Joey Rivera staked Fresno to an early 2-0 lead with pro-set doubles wins. The Rams' third doubles team of Scott Gray and Jakov Tshirkin fell behind 6-1 before storming back to win seven straight games to take the set 8-6. Gray capped off the emotional win with an overhead slam.
"We knew our team needed us to come back," said Gray, who's unbeaten in his dual-team singles career at FCC. "We knew if we didn't win, we would have to struggle really hard in singles."
"It feels really good to win the championship again."
Bessinger, Gray, Varenne and Rivera all won titles for the second consecutive year. "This is the second straight year we've started the state final up 3-0 in doubles," noted Alec Bessinger. "We've been known to be really strong in doubles and that's what helps us win these matches and these state titles."
Gray beat Benjamin Groud 6-2, 6-2 at No. 3 singles as Bessinger was building a 4-1 lead in the third set of his No. 5 match with Kevin Pham. Leading 5-4, Bessinger served for the championship and led 40-15 before securing the school's fourth CCCAA team title.
"It feels amazing to win the title in my first year and I have to credit our former coach Steve Loop for giving me this opportunity," said Rams' coach Hank Bessinger. "And to coach my brother, that's a once-in-a-lifetime thing.
"Back in the fall, we got inspired by the Pat Tillman story, the former Arizona State and Arizona Cardinals' football player. We just heard that yesterday was the 10-year anniversary of his death, so it was a neat feeling to hear guys yelling from the fence, 'Let's Go Tillman!' and 'Tillman Mode, Tillman Mode.'
"That was an incredible comeback by our No. 3 doubles. If we go down 2-1, I think we lose this match. You have to credit Irvine Valley, it's the first time they've been in this position. We thought we could intimidate them a little with our 57 straight wins but we didn't.
"After going down 3-0 in doubles, they came out and fought like crazy. That's what makes the college tennis experience – when you have two teams fighting like that."
Irvine Valley, the top seed in Southern Cal, finishes at 17-3. The Lasers got all the way to the state final in their first playoff appearance.
Irvine got its points at No. 1 and 6 singles. Guillermo Ucelay, a freshman from Spain, beat Matt Alves in the top singles match, 6-3, 6-0 but Alves was hindered by a previous Achilles injury that caused him to take an injury timeout while trailing 5-3 in the first set. James Lafond got the Lasers' other point, winning 6-3, 6-1 at No. 6 singles.
Ross Duncan, the Lasers' second-year coach, missed the match because he's playing for the USA in this week's ITA Senior World Team Championships in Florida. Amber Vann, the women's tennis coach at IVC, filled in for him on Wednesday.
"We didn't want to start 0-3 in doubles," said Vann. "When we started singles, we knew we had a fighting chance. This team had all the heart and all the ability to make it happen but unfortunately, Fresno had a better day."
1 Guillermo Ucelay (IVC) def. Matt Alves (FCC) 6-3, 6-0
2 Jakov Tshirkin (FCC) vs. Simon Guillin (IVC), DNF
3 Scott Gray (FCC) def. Benjamin Groud (IVC) 6-2, 6-2
4 Adrien Varenne (FCC) vs. Steven Le (IVC), DNF
5 Alec Bessinger (FCC) def. Kevin Pham (IVC) 4-6, 6-2, 6-4
6 James Lafond (IVC) def. Joey Rivera (FCC) 6-3, 6-1
1 Varenne/Bessinger (FCC) def. Groud/Jack Divorty (IVC) 8-6
2 Alves/Rivera (FCC) def. Ucelay/Guillin (IVC) 8-3
3 Tshirkin/Gray (FCC) def. Le/Pham (IVC) 8-6