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Arizona men’s tennis alumni react to the Wildcats’ first ever Pac-12 Championship

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Gustaf Strom, Henrik Wagner, Filip Malbasic and Jonas Ziverts at a fundraiser event in November of 2021. 

The support for the Arizona men’s tennis team runs deep from not just the Tucson community, but also alumni of the program. This made winning the program’s first ever Pac-12 Championship so much more special for everyone who has ever been a part of the team.

Kip Johnson:

Johnson played one season for the Wildcats in the 1980-81 season. Arizona was a top-20 team back then filled with a number of a players from California. Johnson was one of the lone local players on the team from Tucson. 

After about a 10-year hiatus from tennis after graduating, Johnson picked the game back up and has been following the Wildcats tennis program ever since. He connected with head coach Clancy Shields soon after he was hired.

“There was a quote from Carlos [Hassey] when he first started and they didn’t win a match,” Johnson said on his remarks of Shields turning the program around. “I mean literally they have gone from last place in the Pac-12 to first place since [Shields] took over.”

One of the common thoughts of alumni from the 1980s and 1990s revolved around how dominant the schools in California have been for so long, which emphasized how impressive this feat was by Arizona.

“You got USC, UCLA, [University of California Berkeley] and Stanford,” Johnson said. “Those four schools have been tops in college tennis forever. You are competing with not just one or two of the top teams in college tennis, but four of them.”

After getting to know the players over the years, Johnson could not be more excited for them and all the success they have had as a team.

“I’m excited for these kids,” Johnson said. “They are a bunch of great kids and nice guys.”

Henrik Wagner:

Wagner played for Arizona in the 1995-96 and 1996-97 seasons.

The Wildcats best ranking was No. 19 in the country in Wagner’s two years in Tucson. He played No. 2 singles and No. 1 doubles in the 1995-96 season before becoming the Wildcats team captain the following year where he played No. 1 singles and No. 1 doubles. His 20 singles wins in the 1995-96 year is currently tied for the 16th most singles wins in one season in the history of the men’s program.

RELATED: UA men not discouraged by losses

One of the biggest highlights of his Arizona career came when he and Tom Haugland defeated Bob and Mike Bryan of Stanford, who went on to become one of the most accomplished doubles teams ever at the professional level.

Wagner reiterated what Johnson said in how remarkable it is what this year’s Arizona team has done.

“To me it is not only winning the Pac-12, but to go through it undefeated,” Wagner said. “When we played USC, UCLA, Stanford and Cal to an extent, the No. 1 and No. 2 guys we played were top-100 in the world a few years later.”

During this era, the conference was called the Pac-10 and Arizona was part of what was called the “six-pack” where they had to play all of the California schools and ASU twice (home and away) compared to facing schools like Washington and Oregon just once each year, making it even more difficult for Wagner and his teammates during this time.

It was last spring when the Wildcats swept USC and UCLA on senior weekend. Arizona entered those matches 2-102 against the Trojans and 1-72 against the Bruins all time.

“It is because we played those teams home and away and they were just so good,” Wagner said. “I mean, they would win the NCAA Tournament on a regular basis between USC, UCLA and Stanford.”

Wagner follows the team very closely, even traveling to Florida last year where the Wildcats played in the Sweet 16 of the NCAA Tournament. He will be in California this weekend supporting Arizona in the Pac-12 Tournament. 

Wagner is originally from Solna, Sweden, the same city current senior Jonas Ziverts is from. Sophomore Gustaf Strom is from a suburb of Stockholm, Sweden and senior Filip Malbasic is originally from south of Sweden but moved to Stockholm to train when he was 13 or 14 years old. They are the first Swedish players who have been Wildcats since Wagner graduated.

“It is absolutely amazing,” Wagner said, “and to see the boys compete so hard for the school is unbelievable.”

Wagner said he went to a small number of matches for Arizona in the seasons after he graduated, but it wasn’t until Shields took over the program when he began to have more of a connection with the team.

In Nov. 2021, Wagner and both the Wildcats men’s and women’s tennis teams were up in Phoenix where they hosted a fundraiser and raised over $30,000 for the tennis programs.

The 2021-22 Arizona men's tennis team at a fundraiser event in November 2021 with alums Henrik Wagner and James "El Rey" Rey.
The 2021-22 Arizona men’s tennis team at a fundraiser event in November 2021 with alums Henrik Wagner and James “El Rey” Rey.

“We’re obviously going to do the second annual fundraiser event,” Wagner said. “We are going to try to make it bigger and raise more money so that we can give back to Clancy so that him and Ryan [Stotland] can do even more and fix up the courts and the stadium. It is very meaningful to be able to be part of that.”

Bob Helmig:

Helmig was the assistant coach for Arizona from 1996-2003, when Bill Wright was the head coach. The Wildcats made the NCAA Tournament several times in those seven years. 

“It was a tough, long season,” Helmig said. “For Clancy and the Arizona men’s team to have done and are doing what they’re doing, to be undefeated in the Pac-12 is just a landmark season. The Pac-12 has always been considered the strongest conference in men’s tennis.”

Helmig knew Shields long before he became the head coach at Arizona.

“Clancy and his older brother Luke were from Colorado,” Helmig said. “As junior players coming up, they would visit Bill Wright in Colorado where he always had his summer camp. Bill knew both of them very well and knew they were going to be good college players.”

A few years into Helmig’s tenure at Arizona, Shields and his brother wound up going to play at Boise State.

“We thought we were definitely going to get one or both of the Shields brothers,” Helmig said. “But then, Clancy ends up coming to Arizona as a coach, so it all works out.”

Roger Matalonga:

Matalonga played for the Wildcats from the 2002-03 season through the 2005-06 season. Up until last season, he was the all-time winningest player in program history.

Originally from Spain, Matalonga ensured he made the most of his experience in Tucson.

“It was a huge opportunity for me as a student-athlete,” Matalonga said. “For both things, to play tennis and play at a high level and at the same time to take advantage of college and to have a degree in the United States. To enjoy a new experience outside of my country, so I remember at that moment I was very conscious that it was a big opportunity for me.”

When Matalonga’s program record was broken last year, Shields reached out personally to him.

“He asked me to make a video for the team,” Matalonga said. “I really appreciated that he remembered me and he told the guys about me. That is something that makes you feel special because I graduated in 2006 and we are in 2022. That is a good thing that something you did a long time ago, the coach now appreciates it and tells the guys of the team that this guy was here and he did some good things for the program.”

Matalonga played against Boise State when Shields was a player.

Alejandro Reguant: 

Reguant, who graduated just last year, is the player who broke Matalonga’s record to become the all-time winningest player in the history of the Arizona men’s tennis program.  His record was since broken by current senior Filip Malbasic. 

RELATED: Alejandro Reguant makes history as Arizona men’s tennis team advances to first ever Sweet Sixteen

Reguant said he is not surprised at all about the success of the team this season after being part of last year’s run to the Sweet 16 in the NCAA Tournament.

“Knowing Clancy and his hunger and the way he works, I knew they were going to do something great,” Reguant said. “I am so happy for all of them because winning the Pac-12 for the first time ever is something that is super special.”

Reguant wishes he was still a part of the team.

“I mean not a lot of people can say they are a Pac-12 champion,” Reguant said. 

Reguant still talks to the players and coaches very often. 

“They called me as soon as they won [the Pac-12 Championship],” Reguant said. “They called me from the locker room, so I was very happy. I kind of felt like I was still part of the team for a moment when they called me.”

If Arizona can hold onto a top-16 overall seed and host a regional in the NCAA Tournament, Reguant plans to make the trip to Tucson from Spain.

“I have my flight booked so if they are hosting, I will be there and that would be a dream for me to go out there and watch them host for the first time,” Reguant said. 

When asked about what it means for the alumni to be actively engaged with him and the team, head coach Clancy Shields immediately talked about honoring the past.

“The more we have gone through this, we have gotten to know all the players from the past who have played here and how much pride they have in the program,” Shields said. “Tennis is such a small part that even having 10 alumni that are following you and sending you messages means the world to us.”

“It really started with us showing what we can do on the court and playing the way we play,” Shields said. “I think the alumni kind of came back because they had a lot of pride in the way that we conducted ourselves on the court, off the court and I have a lot of pride in the fact that people who have played here in the past are coming back in the fold because if you want to create a great program, it always starts with history and tradition.”

Shields noted the walkway in McKale Center filled with the “great players” who have played at Arizona.

“It started with a couple and then look what they have done for the last 30 years and that is what we’re hoping to do here,” Shields said. 


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