Cal women’s tennis begins quest for another championship run

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Emilia Bulfone/File

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Cal women’s tennis head coach Amanda Augustus seems to know a thing or two about winning. A decade after an illustrious playing career for the Bears that earned her the 1998 title of The Daily Californian’s Female Athlete of the Year, she returned to her alma mater as head coach with a desire to continue dominating. Leaving right off of where she left her collegiate playing days, Augustus didn’t miss a beat, leading Cal to back-to-back NCAA championship appearances in 2008 and 2009.

So it comes as no surprise that Augustus is treating every moment of the season as if it’s championship weekend, using this fall as her measuring stick for how her team will stack up for another postseason run in the spring — eight months from now.

“Last year, we finished second in the conference and spent most of the year in the top 10, even top five,” Augustus said. “This new team is working hard, and a lot of how our lineup is set is based off how the results come out this fall.”

The fall season kicks off this weekend with the Bears hosting the Cal Fall Invitational at the Hellman Tennis Complex and Channing Tennis Courts. The early-season kickoff features 12 schools, 11 of which hail from California, including Pac-12 foe UCLA.

Unlike a dual match between two schools, the tournament will consist of three flights of singles and doubles matches based off of each team’s best players. Augustus is confident that a number of Bears will be competing in the final matches Sunday, regardless of who her players match up against.

“Since we are hosting, everyone gets to play regardless, but I hope and expect to see some Bears in the final on Sunday,” Augustus said.

A glance at the Bears’ early-season depth chart seems to back up the head coach’s confidence. Despite the departure of five-time All-American Maegan Manasse, Cal brings in a superb trio of freshmen for this upcoming season, including Florida native Anna Bright, regarded by many as the No. 1 recruit in her class. Add that to a roster that already features No. 5 singles player Karla Popovic and the No. 11 doubles duo in Popovic and junior Olivia Hauger, and the Bears will be tough to beat in a sport that requires match wins across the board.

Match wins have not been a rare occurrence for Cal in recent years, as the team rattled off eight straight in the months of March and April this past Spring. While it has lost Manasse and another crucial doubles player in Denise Starr, the team isn’t expected to deviate from its winning ways as the season progresses.

“This (year’s) team is different because we have some new people, but I think we have some great freshmen, and I’m super excited to see how we perform this weekend,” Popovic said.

It lines up to be a long-awaited start to the season for Popovic, who will be playing her first collegiate singles match since falling short in the NCAA singles round of 16 last May. After wrapping up play this weekend, the Bears will take part in two more invitationals and three national tournaments before a short break prior to its spring season beginning in January.

At the head of a program that has produced 10 All-American winners over the past two seasons, Augustus has established a culture of winning that mirrors that of her own playing days. Whether this year’s team can exceed last year’s postseason run remains to be seen, but the building blocks for what should be a strong year for the Bears are set in place now, nearly a full school year away.
Josh Yuen covers women’s tennis. Contact him at [email protected]

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