A coup has taken place in women’s collegiate tennis. First-year players throughout the country have unseated the old guard and will likely determine the national pecking order as the dual season continues. In an indication of the strength of the vanguard, four freshmen were placed in the top 10 in the latest ITA singles rankings.
The elevated role of newcomers will be evident in the No. 5 Cal women’s tennis team’s annual pilgrimage to Los Angeles. When the Bears (6-1) visit No. 3 UCLA at the Los Angeles Tennis Center on Friday, all eyes will be on the top singles’ court. There, Bruins freshman Robin Anderson (No. 6 in the country) will do battle with second-ranked Cal senior Jana Juricova in a titanic clash of a red-hot newcomer against a tested veteran.
The following day, the Bears will travel to University Park to take on USC at Marks Stadium. If the No. 7 Trojans prevail, it will likely be on the backs of the three freshmen in their singles rotation, including 10th-ranked Zoe Scandalis.
“If (the freshmen) are playing at the position that they are for their team, they’ve obviously demonstrated that they can be successful,” said coach Amanda Augustus. “I think the experience a lot of our girls have will help our players.”
Cal, which moved up two spots in the rankings following a strong showing at the ITA Indoors, is not without a freshmen presence. No. 21 Zsofi Susanyi is 19-3 in her first year in Berkeley, and her only loss in her last 13 matches was to a top-10 player. Fellow freshman Cecilia Estlander had her 11-match win streak snapped in Cal’s loss to No. 3 Duke in the Indoors semifinals. Estlander’s loss underscored an underwhelming performance by the back of Cal’s lineup, which had been a highlight in the first six matches.
Whatever lineup does emerge for the 1:30 pm match will be put to the test by UCLA’s deep rotation. The Bruins (10-0) have seven singles players in the top 125 nationally, and two doubles teams in the top 20. Leading the Westwood troupe is Anderson, a Matawan, N.J., native and a teenage star. Anderson has led the Bruins to their best start in 14 years, thanks to an 8-0 duals record.
In singles overall, the Bruins are 40-2, and have not dropped a match on five of six courts. The team won its last five matches on the road, all against top-20 opponents, adding a win on the road in Baylor less than a week after winning the ITA Indoor tournament.
When the Bruins ousted USC (7-1) in the Indoors semifinals, it ended a four-match road win streak for the Women of Troy, including an upset of No. 8 North Carolina. Ironically, the pious No. 4 doubles team of Kaitlyn Christian and Sabrina Santamaria backs up Scandalis. Junior Danielle Lao, ranked No. 17, boasts an 11-match win streak going into the 12 p.m. meeting Saturday.
The weekend will produce a first glimpse at the landscape of the Pac-12, which has four of the top seven teams in the country, beginning with Stanford, the new No. 1.
“We are very lucky that our schools are located in pairs,” Augustus said of the lightened travel schedule. “I think it’s one of the reasons we have four teams in the top 10.”