July 24, 2009
FRESNO, Calif. - Fresno State Athletics has had many memorable moments during its history. Each day during the month of July, Gobulldogs.com will highlight a great moment from Fresno State Athletics history.
July 24: Men's Tennis ranked No. 6 in 1996 and Fredrick Bergh reaches NCAA singles championship match.
Former Fresno State men's tennis coach Peter Smith has never forgotten his 1996 team that finished the year 23-5 and ranked No.6 in the country. The finish was the best in school history for the men's tennis team and Smith, who is now the head coach at USC watched as sophomore Fredrick Bergh advanced to the NCAA Singles championship match.
1996 was the first year the Bulldogs won a WAC championship and it was the third straight year they earned an NCAA tournament berth. Smith was named the 1996 ITA Region VII and WAC Coach of the Year.
The 1996 team was ready for success after the team earned its first-ever NCAA tourney berth in 1994 and Bergh was the first-ever All-American in 1995.
Recently Gobulldogs.com sat down with former coach Peter Smith to ask him about the 1996 team.
What made 1996 so special?
The team. It was such a special team. It's amazing that 15 years later I am still closest with a couple of those players. They are still with me in my coaching career as five of those guys were the first people to congratulate me when my team won the NCAA's this year. So like anything great in life it all started with amazing passionate people who cared so much. That was the closest team I ever coached on and we did the most special things that any team I have ever coached has done. It wasn't just the starters everyone was close. Four of those players still live in the Fresno area.
What made Frederick such a good player and was there a point during his run to the final where you knew he could do something special?
You always need a little luck. He was supposed to play the No. 1 seed Justin Gimelstob in the second round but Gimelstob was so upset with UCLA losing in the team finals that he didn't play well in his first round and that completely opened the draw up for Frederick. Fredy was the real deal. He was one of the top players in Sweden and what he did at NCAA's was not so shocking. We knew how good he was and he just got better with each match and then lost to a great USC player in three tough sets in the final.
Are there any particular moments the 1996 season that stick out to you?
We had four seniors (Jake Bragonier, Blago Petrov, Bryan Juinio, Ryan Juinio), one junior in Fredrik Giers and Bergh was a sophomore. So there was talent and experience. The team didn't need to be pushed like other teams - there was a perfect balance between coaches and players. Fresno State teams are always road warriors. We had four top 15 wins that year on the road. The most satisfying was beating USC at their place. We hosted WAC championships at home and won the conference beating a great New Mexico team in front of a packed crowd that paved the way for the building of the Wathen Center. Fresno took us in and supported us. I remember not sleeping that night to wake up and get the paper to see the article. Now that was before the internet.
Was Fredericks run and the teams run expected?
The year before we had so many close 4-3 losses and this team just wasn't going to let that happen. Early in the season our Swedes (Bergh and Giers who played 1 and 2) went to a t-shirt store and got shirts made that said Live or Die with the Juinio's. We had twins on the team Bryan and Ryan Juinio who were really talented and played in the middle of the line-up at 3 & 4 and we knew that if this team was going to be successful that they would have to come thru in the clutch moments and they did. Ryan clinched our first big win against a top 15 team Kansas and Bergh proclaimed "this is our year!" Bryan won the last 14 points of his match to clinch the WAC championship. Guys were excited to play and weren't afraid of the big moments.
Looking back on that team and wins we had set up my whole coaching career. Beating teams like Pepperdine and SC gave me creditability at those schools so when I interviewed for those jobs I had the upper edge. Without this group of individuals my career would have been very different. I have never forgotten that.
Coming tomorrow: July 25- Ruth Lawanson becomes the first female student-athlete to have her number retired.
"We Are Your Team" - For Fresno State ticket information log onto gobulldogs.com or call 559-278-DOGS.
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