No. 11 Cal women’s tennis hosts in-state foes in bounce-back opportunity

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Across all sports, fans can find franchises that patiently wait out a “rebuilding phase.” The Houston Astros of MLB and the Philadelphia 76ers of the NBA are prime examples of teams that developed in-house assets and allowed talent to accumulate in bunches over time.

While the No. 11 Cal women’s tennis team (1-1) isn’t undergoing a “rebuilding” process by any means, the team’s youth and inexperience at the collegiate level has been evident in the early going. That’s why this week’s home matches against San Diego State (3-0) and Santa Clara (0-1) — squads that don’t feature a top-100 singles player — are vital to the younger Bears’ adjustments to the speed and competitive nature of dual-match play.

Being young, yet on the cusp of the NCAA top 10, takes both patience and a flexible adjustment period.

Most players enter collegiate play having competed at individual tournaments throughout their lives. This is a stark difference compared to the added pressure of playing a key match during the NCAA’s “best-of-seven” format for determining winners and losers at head-to-head showdowns.

Just ask Cal freshman Julia Rosenqvist, who lost a tight finish down the stretch in the Bears’ 4-3 loss to No. 12 Texas this weekend with a spot to a National Invitational on the line. Despite the loss, head coach Amanda Augustus — a former competitor for Cal herself — remains patient with her budding stars.

“(Rosenqvist’s) a really great asset to our team, and I have no concerns,” Augustus said. “Everyone is doing just fine, and I’ve been coaching and playing long enough to keep these things in perspective, and our goal is to win the outdoor NCAA championship.”

With senior Karla Popovic sidelined for undisclosed reasons, the Bears have competed with three freshmen in the core of their lineup so far this spring — Rosenqvist, the No. 27 singles player Anna Bright and Jasie Dunk.

Still, the best is yet to come for Cal, and its ceiling is as high as any team on the West Coast.

After a hot start to the spring, Bright ran into some bumps in the road in her singles matches against UNLV and Texas players this weekend. With SDSU senior Jana Buth and Santa Clara junior Madison Clarke on the horizon for Thursday and Saturday’s matches, expect Bright to put an early fight and bounce back nicely.

“(Bright’s) settling in, especially playing on court one,” Augustus said. “She learned a lot from (this weekend), and she’s the type of player that will make sure she’s even better this week, and that’s what makes her a great competitor.”

By keeping things in moderation and staying patient in their road to the top, the Bears have a lot to be excited for. The Aztecs and Broncos present a near-perfect opportunity to stay fresh until Cal’s next dual-meet against UCSB on Feb. 18 — more than two weeks down the road.

With Popovic looming in the background along with the consistency that juniors Olivia Hauger and Maria Smith have shown, Cal’s potential will be on display this week.

“It’s an adjustment into these team matches,” Augustus said. “We’re really trying to be the best team in May and not the best team in January.”

Josh Yuen is an assistant sports editor. Contact him at [email protected].