Playing two road matches against top-10 teams in two days is a challenge. Playing them without a top player makes the task seem even more difficult. What if the star is the defending NCAA singles champion and the number two player in the country? A tall order, indeed.
The Cal women’s tennis team, without the services of star Jana Juricova, dropped both weekend matches in its annual trip to Los Angeles. The No. 5 Bears took undefeated UCLA to a final set on Friday and had an early lead against USC the following day, yet the team lost both matches, 4-3.
Juricova was held out due to a lower back strain. Cal coaches had hoped that Juricova would play in the weekend’s doubles matches and said that the star will likely play next Friday against Stanford.
“We didn’t want to put her in if she really wasn’t ready to go, because we obviously have a lot more matches to go,” said coach Amanda Augustus. “I think we are looking more long term.”
Against No. 3 UCLA (11-0), Cal shot out to a 3-1 lead after dropping the doubles point. The Bruins’ depth proved to be the difference, as they took three of the four lower court singles matches. Cal’s Anett Schutting had a chance to give the Bears the win but fell to Pamela Montez in the final set, 6-2.
The following day, Cal took the doubles match to take a 1-0 lead, an important victory for the program. Cal’s top doubles team, Annie Goransson and Anett Schutting, beat No. 4 Kaitlyn Christian and Sabrina Santamaria for their second victory of the weekend. The win came moments after Tayler Davis and Zsofi Susanyi, who had played together only a few times in practice before the weekend, gritted out a 9-7 decision.
“It’s been a goal of ours to develop the doubles teams,” Augustus said. “We know how much we are going to need them later in the season.”
After the doubles victory, Cal’s lineup did not hold, as No. 7 USC (9-1) won four of six singles matches to take the victory. The win snapped a five-game winning streak over the Trojans and resulted in the Bears’ first winless trip to Los Angeles since 2007. Cal has now lost three straight matches, albeit all on the road against top-10 teams; in this streak, Bears on courts three through six have gone just 2-9.
Cal’s play on the top court was stalwart again, though, even without Juricova. Freshman Zsofi Susanyi posted two wins against top-10 freshmen, beating No. 6 Robin Anderson on Friday, followed by a victory over No. 10 Zoe Scandalis the following afternoon.
“Zsofi is a very resilient player, and I think, on the road, that serves you well,” Augustus said. “She’s played smart and she was open to coaching.”
Although the team came away without a win, Augustus is optimistic that the experience of close road matches against high-quality teams will serve the Bears well this Friday against Stanford and beyond.
“These tough matches on the road are why we are so lucky to be in the conference that we are in, because it only makes all of our teams stronger,” Augustus said.