Maegan Manasse is finally ready to continue her dominance in collegiate tennis. After being sidelined for almost two months because of injury, the stellar Cal senior will make her season debut this weekend at the USTA/ITA Northwest Regional Championships, along with the rest of the Cal women’s tennis squad.
The Bears will find themselves competing on rival Stanford’s courts Friday through Tuesday, with the winners of the main singles and doubles draws qualifying for a spot in the USTA/ITA National Indoor Collegiate Championships, which take place in New York in November.
Last year, Manasse, who holds a preseason national ranking of seven in the ITA, also sat out in the singles draw, which will give her a little extra motivation for this year’s tournament.
“It’s just about practicing every day and making sure I have little things to work on — fitness, technique and strategy-wise. Everyday I’ve been working hard with the team in the weight room and courts,” Manasse said. “I’m excited to be out there once again.”
While she says she feels ready to go, Manasse also knows that match-play situations are a completely different beast from practice. This is one of many lasts for Manasse, and she is looking forward to enjoying every moment of it with her team.
In the 2015 competition, Cal players had strong showings, but none were able to make it to the semifinals or finals. Denise Starr, Karla Popovic and Klara Fabikova all reached the quarterfinals, however. Fabikova, who graduated last spring, lost to Fresno State’s Mayar Ahmed with a score of 6-2, 7-6(7). Starr, now a senior ranked 62nd by the ITA, was the fourth seed in the tournament but fell to Washington’s Tami Grende, 7-6(7), 6-2.
Popovic, ranked 90th, is now a junior and has been playing some of her best tennis ever, winning singles titles at the Cal Fall Nike Invitational and Saint Mary’s Invitational, along with a doubles victory with Olivia Hauger at the Saint Mary’s Invitational. This weekend, she will look to continue her ascent in the ITA rankings.
Other players to look for in the singles draw include senior Stephane Lin, who reached the semifinals of the second flight singles draw at the Cal Fall Nike Invitational.
Cal also has a tremendous opportunity to send a doubles team to the Indoor Championships. Although they have not played together all season, the pairing of Manasse and Starr will surely be a major contender this weekend, as the two have experienced a lot of success playing together in the past.
Starr and Manasse hold the No. 3 spot in the ITA doubles rankings and should make a strong push for the top spot this season. Last season, the duo lost in the NCAA Doubles Championship final, ending a historic run.
Sophomore Olivia Hauger and Popovic will also compete as a doubles team and have also enjoyed some early-season success. In addition to the title at the Saint Mary’s Invitational, the two Bears reached the quarterfinals of the Cal Nike Fall Invitational.
One of Cal’s most important additions this offseason was doubles specialist Maya Jansen. Jansen is a fifth-year transfer from Alabama with invaluable experience. She is a two-time NCAA doubles champion and has also participated in the U.S. Open doubles tournament. This weekend, she will pair up with sophomore Maria Smith to form yet another strong Cal doubles team.
“(Jansen’s) experience speaks for itself and, in a lot of ways, she brings a different perspective based on that experience,” said head coach Amanda Augustus. “It’s not an easy feat to win not one but two national championships.”
With high expectations mounting for another historic season, it will be interesting to see how Cal will perform in one of its first major national tournaments featuring top-ranked competition.
Nikhil Bhumralkar covers women’s tennis. Contact him at [email protected].