The University of Alberta Golden Bears and Pandas tennis teams had a successful 2021 – 22 season that saw both teams win the 2020 national titles and the Prairie Regional Championship. The Pandas also won the Western Regional Championship.
In October, the teams competed for the 2020 national title and both teams won gold medals. Since the 2020 national championship was cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Canadian University Tennis Championship allowed for qualifying athletes from the 2020 – 21 season, even if graduated, to compete.
Russ Sluchinski, head coach of the Bears and Pandas tennis teams, was grateful for the “makeup nationals” that allowed athletes to return and compete.
It was the first national title for the Bears since 2016, while it is the second straight national title for the Pandas. The double gold medal is the first time a university has won both men’s and women’s national titles.
At the Prairie Regional Championship in February, the Bears and Pandas both won gold medals.
Most recently, at the Western Regional Championship, the Pandas won the gold medal securing a spot at the next Canadian University Tennis Championship. The championship will be held this August in Ontario.
The gold medal continues the Pandas’ undefeated 2021 – 22 season, their last loss being in the 2018 national championship.
The Bears failed to qualify for the national championship as they were defeated by the University of British Columbia Thunderbirds. It is the first time since 2009 that the Bears have failed to qualify for the Canadian University Tennis Championship.
Sluchinski said he was happy with the “excellent season” and is optimistic the Pandas will do well at the national championship. Five of the six Pandas that will be competing also played in the previous October national championship.
“We have an additional player who was [most valuable player] (MVP) a few years ago. [They] didn’t get to play in October because of some school commitments [and] will be joining our team, so I think our team is actually a little bit stronger than the team that won in October.”
Going into the next 2022- 23 season, the Pandas and Bears will retain most of their roster and will recruit two Pandas and three Bears.
“[In the] next year, both the teams are looking fairly strong,” Sluchinski said. “We have a real veteran presence … [because the athletes] who played last year will have that [championship] experience.”
The tennis teams look forward to the construction of a new tennis centre consisting of eight tennis courts at the University of Alberta South Campus. The South Campus Tennis Centre is scheduled to open in the summer of 2023.
“This is going to have a big impact on our varsity program. It’s going to allow us some additional training time but also an increased opportunity to host,” Sluchinski said. “I’m hoping one day we’ll be able to even host nationals here in Edmonton.”