After two decisive victories in the first two rounds of the NCAA championships, No. 13 Cal will look to continue its winning ways as it heads off to Athens, Georgia, to face No. 4 Vanderbilt.
Cal is coming off two dominant performances against two quality teams in San Jose State and LSU. Both teams put up reasonable resistance against the Bears, but the home team was too good.
From the onset of both games, the Bears were aggressive and controlled the points. They were effective in moving their opponents around the court and forcing them into hitting tough shots. It was clear that the team was heeding Cal head coach Amanda Augustus’ advice and was aggressive in their play.
The team also served well and got a high percentage of first serves in. This is something that the Bears will look to continue as they get set to take on the Commodores in the round of 16.
Vanderbilt comes into tournament as the No. 4 seed. Vanderbilt is full of confidence after capturing both the South East Conference regular and postseason tournament against Florida.
The Commodores have carried on their strong play in the first two rounds of the NCAA tournament, as the team cruised past Southern Illinois University Edwardsville and No. 38 Clemson to earn the right to go to Athens.
The team is led by redshirt junior Astra Sharma and senior Sydney Campbell, who are respectively ranked fourth and 15th in the country. Sharma is also the reigning SEC Player of the Year.
Vanderbilt also has sophomore Fernanda Contreras, who is ranked inside the top 100 at No. 87. In doubles, Vanderbilt’s duo of Sharma and sophomore Emily Smith is ranked first in the country.
As such, Cal has a formidable opponent in Vanderbilt. But Cal will not go away easily. One thing that Cal can rely on in this match is its depth. From courts one through six, the Bears have proven winners who have gotten the job done before. With the Bears boasting a handful of top ranked players themselves, they will not be intimidated.
Cal is led in singles by junior Karla Popovic and senior Maegan Manasse, who are ranked 10th and 34th, respectively. In doubles, the Bears have the No. 34 pair of Manasse and graduate transfer Maya Jansen and the No. 55 duo of Popovic and sophomore Olivia Hauger.
One of the interesting things to consider in this tournament is how the courts play. If the courts play faster, this will definitely favor the Bears, as they prefer these conditions. While it is a small factor, it is something that can play a big deal in deciding the winner of this match.
Although the Bears are ranked lower than the Commodores, Cal will still go into match knowing that it can win. Having played against some of the best teams in the country already, the Bears will be up to the task.
The key will be to remain aggressive and go for their shots. With a solid week of practice to make adjustments, the Bears will be ready. Only time will tell what the fate of the Bears is in the NCAA tournament.
Praveen Kuruppu covers women’s tennis. Contact him at