Popovic, Hauger lead young Cal women’s tennis into Regional Championships

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Emilia Bulfone/File

Everybody loves a good rivalry, but it’s no secret that some rivalries quite simply possess more meaning and tradition than others. As one of the oldest college rivalries in the United States, Cal-Stanford goes above and beyond an average competition, regardless of the sport being played.

This weekend, Stanford will play host to the high-flying Bears among others at the USTA/ITA Northwest Regional Championships in Palo Alto. Just a few dozen strides away from Stanford Stadium, the Taube Family Tennis Center has become a battleground in its own right over the years for primetime tennis matches between the two rival schools.

While the fall tune-up nature of preseason tournaments ameliorates the heat on any bitter feelings that exist between rival schools, it offers Cal with a chance to continue its early season consistency at a place where Bears historically aren’t the crowd-favorite.

“It’s always a really good tournament (at Stanford), and there’s always somebody that typically has a breakthrough here,” head coach Amanda Augustus said.

That somebody was current senior Karla Popovic last fall, the now-undisputed leader of the Bears and preseason No. 5 singles player in the nation. As an up-and-coming junior, Popovic burst onto the scene with a regionals tournament sweep in both singles and doubles, solidifying herself as one of Cal’s top singles players in recent memory. The outright dominating performance earned Popovic a trip to the National Indoor Intercollegiate Championships in New York.

The Bears’ young lineup features a number of prime candidates to follow in Popovic’s footsteps. The freshmen tandem Anna Bright and Vivian Glozman will continue to play together, as they look to build off of their first tournament win in the St. Mary’s Invitational just two weeks ago. Additionally, the newly formed duo of junior Maria Smith and freshman Jasie Dunk will play together once again as Augustus experiments with her fall doubles pairings.

“We have three freshmen who are all doing really well and developing confidence,” Augustus said. “Our returning players know what to expect and really like this event because it’s our first road trip together as a team. It’s not too far, but it will help us develop our team culture for this year.”

With the exception of conference foes Stanford and Oregon, Cal has already competed against the majority of this weekend’s competition in its first few weeks of fall play, including in-state foes St. Mary’s, UC Davis and USF. The Cardinal will counter the No. 1-seeded Popovic and junior Olivia Hauger with the No. 3 pairing of sophomore Emma Higuchi and junior Kimberly Yee. Should the Cardinal pair win its opening match, the two rival schools will meet in the second round. Play kicks off this morning with opening round doubles play and concludes Monday with championship matches, a target that many expect several Bears to reach.

With returning veterans looking for a repeat performance and younger stars seeking a potential breakout, it remains to be seen whether Cal, Stanford or even a surprise contender steals the spotlight. Expect stakes to be higher in any competition involving these two rivals.

 

Josh Yuen covers women’s tennis. Contact him at [email protected].

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