MALIBU, Calif. — UC Santa Barbara's Nicolas Moreno de Alboran made history on Sunday, becoming the first UCSB athlete to advance to the Singles Championship at the ITA Southwest Regional after knocking off 11th seeded Michael Geerts of Arizona State.
"I feel very happy, very excited to be in the position I am now," Moreno de Alboran said. "I am happy to represent UCSB and this program that has done some great things the past three years and I am happy for all the help I have gotten from everyone that's allowed me to have a chance to win this tournament."
"I am pretty excited. Nic has a great chance to win a championship and we have never had someone in the final so it's exciting and when you also remember we won the doubles last year," Head Coach Marty Davis said. "Nic has a long day ahead of him tomorrow but we like his chances."
The junior defeated ASU's senior in the first set 6-3 and had the early advantage in the second up 3-0, however, Geerts was forced to retire due to injury giving Moreno de Alboran the victory.
Seeded eighth in this tournament, the New York native has had to face a slew of good opponents to have the opportunity to win the first ITA Southwest Singles Championship in Santa Barbara history.
In his five matches, Moreno de Alboran has had to knock off four players representing Pac-12 schools including UCLA's senior ranked 75th in the country, Logan Staggs, and players from USC, Arizona, and Arizona State. Even more impressive, the junior has won all five of his matches in straight sets, with only one being pushed to a tiebreaker.
"Playing tournaments throughout the summer helped get me in a good groove and doing well at the Battle of the Bay earlier helped give me the confidence I can beat these players," Moreno de Alboran said, "Also the training and the team at UCSB that has been provided to me has been great day in and day out."
In the title match on Monday, Moreno de Alboran will face another Sundevil in the form of Benjamin Hannestad, a freshman from Denmark.
Hannestad is a clear focal point of an Arizona State rebuild as he was the first signee of the reinstated team that was on hiatus due to low funds for eight years. This is the first full year of reinstatement for the ASU program. Along with having a chance to win the singles title, Hannestad also has the chance to win the doubles title alongside partner Tim Ruehl.
Despite having not been seeded headed into this tournament, Hannestad is still a force to be reckoned with as he has had some impressive wins of his own including the defeating of top-seed and 54th ranked Logan Smith of USC in straight sets 6-4, 6-3. Hannestad also knocked off ninth-seeded Max Cressy of UCLA in straight sets, 6-3, 6-2.
"I feel like I can definitely win this battle, but I do realize he is a good player and I have to be at the top of my game to be able to take advantage of the opportunities that I know I will have tomorrow," Moreno de Alboran said.
"He's definitely a quality player but I think it's a good match-up for Nic. Hannestad is a big strong hitter and attempts to overpower his opponents," Davis said. "However, Nic has the best weapon which is a great forehand and we are hoping Nic can serve well enough to be on offense most of the match. It will probably come down to who gets a quicker start."
A title win would also mean a lot to a UC Santa Barbara program that has been making tremendous strides in the last few years.
During the 2013-14 season, UCSB's Tobias Galskov was the first Gaucho to reach the semifinal at the ITA Southwest Regional in singles. Last year, the duo of Simon Freund and graduated Morgan Mays became the first pair in UCSB history to win the doubles portion of the regional, and now, this year, Moreno de Alboran will look to take home the singles title.
"It's been a long process but this is evidence that the program is headed in the right direction," Davis said. "We are getting to pretty incredible heights for a little mid-major with a modest budget. We are all happy to be apart of the program right now that's for sure."
The ITA Southwest Regional concludes Monday, October 23 with the singles championship between Moreno de Alboran and Hannestad beginning at 12:30.