No. 16 Cal women’s tennis loses Pac-12 regular season title to No. 8 Stanford on tiebreaker

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Julian Kilchling/Staff

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With the Pac-12 regular-season title on the line, both No. 8 Stanford and No. 16 Cal came out with plenty of energy and fight. Right from the onset, it was clear that every point was going to have to be earned. When two equally matched teams square off, two things are likely to happen. The match will be tightly contested and it will go right down to the wire, and that was exactly the case.

In doubles, both schools were very aggressive and looked to take command of the rallies as early in the point as possible. Stanford struck first behind a convincing 6-1 win on court 3 against senior Denise Starr and freshman Alexis Nelson. But not too long after, the No. 31 pair of senior Maegan Manasse and graduate transfer Maya Jansen won its match 6-4 to tie up the score. The double’s point’s fate then fell to the match on court 2. Junior Karla Popovic and sophomore Olivia Hauger fought back against the No. 40 team of senior Caroline Doyle and sophomore Melissa Lord from being down a break to set up a decisive tiebreaker. Although the Bears were resilient enough to force a breaker, Stanford retook control by forcing Popovic and Hauger into a few errors. In the end, the Cardinal ran away with the tiebreaker, 7-2.

After dropping the double’s point, the Bears looked to respond quickly. No. 18 Popovic and Starr decisively put the Bears up 2-1, leaving the team needing two more victories to seal the win. Sophomore Maria Smith would lose on court 6, which would even up the overall score at two apiece.

The last three matches were all decided in a third set, and that’s exactly when No. 52 Maegan Manasse would deliver a comeback for the ages. Down 4-1 in the final set, it was clear that Manasse was struggling. Battling a shoulder issue for much of the season, she was forced to serve underhand, giving her opponent a huge advantage. But the senior wasn’t fazed by her disadvantaged serving. She fought for every point and clawed her way back into the set. She would force a tiebreaker, and from there, it was history. Behind the support of the entire crowd, with the exception of a few rowdy Stanford fans, the senior delivered a victory in her last regular-season match for Cal.

Needing just one more victory to clinch the match, it looked as if the Bears were in position to do so. But on court 4, Hauger dropped a back-and-forth affair, leaving everything on the shoulders of Jansen.

Although Jansen initially had the edge in the third set, it became clear that she was tiring. Stanford freshman Emily Arbuthnott was returning everything and was frustrating the graduate transfer. After four hours of back-and-forth play, Arbuthnott finished off Jansen to clinch the match for the Cardinal. With the victory, Stanford defended its Pac-12 regular season title.

While it certainly wasn’t the result the Bears were looking for with the title on the line, the team still has to be proud of the way it fought. Ultimately, a few points here or there were the difference between winning and losing. Those points just didn’t go Cal’s way.

One thing above all is clear: Cal is a strong team that is well armed for a long run in the postseason. The ability to compete to the very end with a top team like Stanford is a clear reminder that this team is for real. And while Cal fans may be disappointed with the loss, if the cards fall correctly, which they should, the team will likely get another crack at Stanford in the Pac-12 postseason tournament and a legitimate shot at glory in the NCAA tournament.

Praveen Kuruppu covers women’s tennis. Contact him at [email protected].

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