After going undefeated in conference play and claiming the Pac-12 title just a month prior, the Cal women’s tennis team was an NCAA championship away from a perfect season. But in a match where the Bears were just one tiebreaker away from moving on to the NCAA quarterfinals, the Cardinal broke Cal’s NCAA championship aspirations.
In the round of 16 at the NCAAs, the No. 6 Bears (20-5) lost in a nailbiter to the defending champions Stanford (19-2), 4-3, at the Ken Byers Tennis Complex.
“They’re a well coached team, we’re a well coached team and people make adjustments,” said head coach Amanda Augustus. “If you play a team a couple times they change their game plan a little bit.”
Unlike the conference championship match, Augustus elected to play Zsofi Susanyi with Klara Fabikova on court three doubles. There, the duo promptly topped Stanford’s Caroline Doyle and Amelia Herring, 8-4. Shortly after, Denise Starr and Maegan Manasse knocked off Taylor Davidson and Ellen Tsay, 8-3, to clinch the doubles point.
Ahead in the overall match 1-0 starting singles, No. 23 Susanyi continued her strong play, crushing Krista Hardebeck, 6-2, 6-1. She hit solid ground strokes, getting great depth on the ball to keep the ball deep. Susanyi played the angles forcing Hardebeck to chase the ball to keep it alive setting Susanyi up for drop shots and slams.
Following Susanyi’s victory on court two, No. 18 Anett Schutting and Denise Starr proceeded to lose their matches in two short sets. No. 21 Carol Zhao got the better of Schutting on court three, despite the Cal player defeating Zhao earlier to take the Pac-12 title. And once again, No. 3 Kristie Ahn made short work of Starr, 6-4, 6-2.
With the overall match tied at 2-2, Fabikova gave the Bears the slight edge, topping her opponent, Ellen Tsay, 6-4, 6-3. But in a surprising twist, Lynn Chi dropped her match, 6-2, 4-6, 6-3, to Davidson leaving the match in the hands of freshman Manasse.
“Her opponent really went for her shots,” Augustus said. “In the third set, her opponent just found another gear.”
In a match with two tiebreakers, Manasse and Doyle fought in a see-saw battle with a trip to the NCAA semifinals on the line. But Manasse ultimately came up just short of the victory, 6-7(5), 6-3, 7-6(0), scoring zero points in the final tiebreaker.
“It was disappointing to lose such a close match but the team fought and competed hard,” Augustus said. “We were one point away and we had our opportunities. Throughout the season we’ve been able to figure our way out of matches like that and we came up just a little bit short against a really good team that’s going to go really far in the tournament.”
Winston Cho covers women’s tennis. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org