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By MICHAEL COIT
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

SRJC tennis coach Jay Samonte, right, instructs his players at the beginning to practice Tuesday. (Christopher Chung / The Press Democrat)SRJC tennis coach Jay Samonte, right, instructs his players at the beginning to practice Tuesday. (Christopher Chung / The Press Democrat)

A much-improved Santa Rosa Junior College men’s tennis team looks to stay hot at the Big 8 Conference tournament opening today.

Advancing far enough to qualify for the state championships is the aim for Bear Cubs players in the singles and doubles fields at American River College.

“Right now the goal is just to make it as far as we can, just focus on the first match, hopefully start off good and keep it going,” said Moses Kuzu, a first-year player from Kelseyville High School.

The young Bear Cubs are gaining confidence. Tested early by a tough schedule, the Santa Rosa men are playing strongest when the stakes are highest.

“They’ve always battled. They just needed getting matches under their belts,” said Santa Rosa coach Jay Samonte. “The guys improved quite a bit over the course of the season.”

Most of Santa Rosa’s top players are new to

the college game. The learning curve included adjusting to deeper, stronger competition, with the training and conditioning that level of play demands.

Emerging as the top singles players are Zak Bohegian from Marin, Chase Sariaslani of Maria Carrillo High, Jon Sharp out of Lodi, and Kuzu.

“Our numbers one to four are very close. They push each other pretty well,” Samonte said.

Santa Rosa’s top doubles hopefuls are Bohegian-Sharp and Sariaslani-Kuzu.

“I’m happy to be where I’m at. There’s some really good players up here. I enjoy having intense competition like that,” Kuzu said.

A two-time All-Empire prep player at Kelseyville, Kuzu has answered the challenge of competing at the college level.

“I’m doubling the court time and the workout time,” Kuzu said. “I’ve been able to play better at key moments. I have more left at the end of matches.”

Better players can often mean longer matches. Success places a premium on staying in points to limit errors on shots.

Losing early — no wins in his first four matches — pushed Kuzu to accelerate his adjustment to college tennis.

“It’s just about pressing on. I’m just trying to get better,” he said.

As a team, Santa Rosa finished tied for second in Big 8 Conference play. Santa Rosa likely will open on the road when the NorCal team tournament begins Tuesday.

That the Bear Cubs have come this far reflects the team’s dedication. Santa Rosa began the season 1-6 — shutout in the first two matches — yet finished 7-8.

“They got over the hump and started believing in themselves,” Samonte said.

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