It’s no secret that a tournament in Honolulu will draw more hands raised than a tournament in Tempe. After a two-month hiatus, the No. 11 Cal women’s tennis team will begin the calendar year with “Aloha” and “Mahalo” at the University of Hawaii’s Weinman Foundation Invitational, its first action since the conclusion of the fall season.
The tournament marks a return to the court for freshman Anna Bright, who made a name for herself throughout the fall and surged into the top 30 ranked singles players in the nation. Bright’s grit, composure and execution have been just as impressive as her 16-4 singles record, an accomplishment that earned her a No. 27 ranking in singles heading into spring play.
But Bright was far from the only Bear turning heads on head coach Amanda Augustus’ talented squad. Coming in at No. 40 is junior Olivia Hauger, who also moved up 35 spots from her preseason rank after a series of spectacular performances in the fall. Her most notable run of successes came at the Riviera Women’s All-American Championships in October, where she reached round 16 after not even having a guaranteed spot in the main draw at the beginning of play.
Cal will be joining Pac-12 rival Washington State, No. 25 TCU, Texas A&M, CSU Northridge and host Hawaii — the defending Big West regular season champions — in a friendlier setting than usual, but that’s not to say that players won’t be fired up to prove themselves. The duo of junior Maria Smith and freshman Jasie Dunk, a pair that finished the fall with a 5-2 doubles record, will look to make its case for a future ranking, while Bright’s doubles partner Vivian Glozman continues to shine as another standout freshman.
Perhaps the most anxious and excited player to be back in action is senior Karla Popovic, currently ranked No. 45 in singles. A clear top-10 competitor, Popovic only played in three singles matches in her fall campaign, finishing just 1-2. While Popovic excelled against then-No. 8 ranked Anna Danilina from Florida, she struggled against two opponents ranked lower than her. As the undisputed leader of the team, Popovic is set for a big spring after a well-rested few months, and will also look to build on the No. 39 ranking that she and Hauger share in doubles.
While the team will work on building chemistry during downtime, the Bears will have their hands full with a great deal of opposing talent. The Aggies finished just three spots behind Cal at the conclusion of last spring at No. 16 and the Rainbow Wahine are home to a budding star of their own in sophomore Petra Melounova. Hawaii features three All-Big West first-teamers in Melounova, senior Marina Hruba and junior Roxanne Resma, all of whom will play host and pose a challenge to the rest of the field.
It doesn’t get much better than kicking off 2018 in Hawaii, even when it’s back to business for the Bears. Invitational Tournament or not, being on the cusp of the top 10 will mean that every match counts in Cal’s climb to the top.
Josh Yuen is an assistant sports editor. Contact him at