This senior reflection was supposed to be written a year ago. The 2020 men’s tennis team was good and looking to get better. I was happy with my senior season and grateful to have come out on top in several dramatic matches. On Thursday, March 12, my teammates and I were looking forward to the challenge of defending our then 66-match home winning streak against top-ranked USC, to be cheered on by another boisterous Los Angeles Tennis Center crowd, just like the one that helped us to victory over the Trojans in a rivalry battle for the ages the year before.
The match never took place. While it had been raining a bit that morning, we received word the match was canceled due to the growing COVID-19 pandemic. Sporting events across the country were just starting to be canceled, but I was nonetheless stunned. A few days later, all UCLA Athletics seasons were canceled, and my senior year was over – just like that. Confusion, anger and anxiety followed, and there were more questions than answers about the pandemic. The world suddenly was a different place as the pandemic unfolded, and I nervously followed the news in isolation with my family while adjusting to becoming a UCLA student via Zoom and continuing to wonder if my college tennis career was over.
Hopeful news came a few weeks later when the NCAA granted an extra year of eligibility to spring sport seniors, and soon thereafter the Athletics department supported student-athletes like myself with the opportunity to come back. The decision for me was a no-brainer – I couldn’t pass up the chance to continue competing as a Bruin with the four letters across my chest.
Returning to the UCLA courts in January brought both excitement and uncertainty. While the season would be shorter and the COVID-19 protocols an added challenge, I was grateful to be back on the court practicing with my teammates and looking forward to playing matches against the best of the best on our level. Although nothing was normal about the new normal, I knew I was lucky to be on campus and doing what I love to do – play tennis.
This season didn’t go exactly as planned, but I don’t regret my decision one bit. I had some quality wins over tough opponents, some tough losses, and was hopeful that our team would continue to improve and make a run in the NCAA tournament. It was not to be, but as I walked off the court in Austin, Texas after my last match, I knew I had given my all and remained proud to be a Bruin.
The past year allowed me to reflect with gratitude on the amazing opportunities I’ve had here at UCLA, what it means to be a Bruin and the life lessons I’ve learned. I grew up near campus, and UCLA has been my home away from home. I have been inspired by countless great performances over the years and by my fellow student-athletes during my time here. I am thankful for the kindness of so many coaches and staff members who have encouraged me and supported me during that time.
I am also mindful of several lessons learned while fulfilling my lifelong dream of being a UCLA student-athlete. Lessons that I hope might reach future Bruins.
One is to keep setting goals. As a walk-on, mine was modest at first – to simply make the travel squad my freshman year. Then, it was to break into the doubles lineup. After that, the singles lineup – and work my way up. I was able to accomplish these goals with a combination of luck, staying healthy and hard work.
Another lesson is there is no replacement for hard work – every day I tried to show up ready for practice. I was so lucky to practice against talented teammates every day. They pushed me and forced me to push myself to a level I had never reached. One of the things that makes UCLA special is that opportunity to be with the best. Every day.
You can’t do it alone. I am grateful to my teammates, my coaches, friends and fellow Bruin athletes and the UCLA staff for supporting me during my time here. All of you played a role in helping me to become the best I could be on and off the court.
Embrace the big moments. It’s something I’m most proud of – that I’ve tried to be at my best when my best is needed. It’s why we’re here at UCLA, right?
Finally, you have to believe in yourself. I knew I was a good player and knew I was getting better, but I constantly had to prove to my coaches I was worthy of being in the lineup. Even after moving up the lineup and having a number of career highlights, my head coach, Billy Martin, confessed that I fooled him a bit about how good I could be and how I could contribute to our team.
I came to UCLA to be part of a team that competes in the postseason each and every year. Even when I fell short, I was and continue to be so proud to have this fallback – that I’m at UCLA, the No. 1 public school in the country. Amazing.
While it’s been a winding road, I’ve loved the path I’ve traveled, and I’m proud to wear the blue and gold wherever I am and talk about UCLA and what it means to be a Bruin. With the pandemic coming to an end, I look forward to reuniting in person with my fellow Bruins as an alum, and I especially can’t wait to be at the Rose Bowl and Pauley Pavilion next year to cheer on our teams. Go Bruins!
Goldberg played for UCLA men’s tennis from 2016-2021.