When Jana Juricova won the NCAA singles title on May 30, she capped off one of the most dominant individual seasons in the history of Cal women’s tennis.
After the Bears’ third-round elimination in the NCAA Team Championships the week before, Juricova made sure she would not have another early exit.
The junior came out strong in the first four rounds of the tournament — bulldozing through her opponents without losing a single set. In the last two rounds of the tournament, Juricova muscled past Nicole Gibbs and Stacey Tan of Stanford to win her first NCAA singles title.
“There’s really only a handful of players in college tennis that can really challenge Juricova,” Cal coach Amanda Augustus said. “The combination of her getting into a great shape, injury-free, and experimenting with varieties of shots in her game made Juricova so dominant this season.”
The singles crown was icing on the cake for Juricova’s remarkable campaign. The recently-named ITA National Player of the Year finished undefeated in singles this season and won the Pac-10 Doubles Championships with partner Mari Andersson at Ojai, Calif. — their first title since winning the 2009 NCAA Doubles title together.
While Juricova shined brightly, the team as a whole flickered its potential on and off throughout the season. Despite finishing in the top 10, the Bears were hampered by inconsistency that kept them out of the NCAA quarterfinals for the second consecutive year.
Although Cal (18-7, 6-2 in the Pac-10) had reliable players in Juricova and Andersson in the front courts, the Bears’ inexperienced back courts were subjected to numerous shuffles during the season.
A make-or-break moment came in the middle of the season when Cal lost three straight matches for the first time since April of 2007.
With concerns surrounding doubles play, Augustus revamped her lineups by pairing sophomore Annie Goransson and freshman Anett Schutting. The duo became an instant success, breaking the top 25 in doubles.
“One of the key things I look when pairing players is how the two personalities match when they compete,” Augustus said. “Annie and Anett are high-energy, fired-up players and I think it was a good match.”
After finishing third in the conference, Cal easily advanced to the Round of 16 of the NCAA Team Championships with wins over Boston University and USC, but the eighth-seeded Bears were knocked out of the third round by Georgia, 4-3.
After the two teams traded points back and forth, the match-clinching point went to the Bulldogs’ Chelsey Gullickson, who handed Juricova her first loss in 20 matches.
Despite losing seniors Andersson and Marina Cossou, the promising late-season play of the underclassmen — particularly Goransson and Schutting — has given the Bears a reason to believe that next year can wash away this season’s bitter early exit.
And it’s hard not to forget that Juricova will spearhead the team for one more season. As the two-time NCAA champion readies for her last campaign at Cal, she is already thinking beyond individual accolades.
“This year, I was hoping for a bit more,” Juricova said. “Hopefully next year, we can lead each other to our ultimate goal: the NCAA championships.”
Seung Y. Lee covers women’s tennis.