The longer a match drags on, the higher chance there is that the intangibles — nerves, fatigue, energy level — become factors in affecting the outcome. The pressure of a high-stakes tournament and a potential NCAA bid on the line.
In the quarterfinals of the Pac-12 Championships, the Cal women’s tennis team faced that and more during a 5-hour, 6-minute marathon with Washington State on Thursday afternoon. While the Cougars emerged victorious by an overall margin of 4-3, it’s safe to say that both teams left everything they had on the court when it was all said and done.
With the two squads knotted at 3-3, all eyes fell on court four singles, where a pair of seasoned juniors were fighting to advance their respective teams to the semifinals. After dropping the first set 6-3 to Cal junior Maria Smith, Washington State junior Tiffany Mylonas prevailed in the second by way of a 7-6 (5) score, bringing things to a third and final set.
By this time, the late-morning match had transitioned into the mid-afternoon sunshine of Southern California. But neither player was ready to concede, even after Mylonas snatched an early edge. Smith came back to eradicate six match points for the Cougars, much to the avail of her teammates, who at one point held a 3-1 lead midway through the day.
On her seventh match point, Mylonas secured a winner, extending Washington State’s run and putting Cal’s season in limbo.
The back-and-forth nature of the contest — and court four in particular — illuminated just how competitive and evenly matched both of these teams were with each other. It kicked off with an all-too-familiar sight for the Bears, as the Cougars raced out to a 1-0 advantage by way of the doubles point.
In somewhat of a surprising move, Cal head coach Amanda Augustus paired freshmen Anna Bright and Hana Mraz together for the first time in doubles this spring. Bright’s typical partner, fellow freshman Vivian Glozman, joined forces with freshman Julia Rosenqvist, while Smith and junior Olivia Hauger competed together on court three doubles.
Unfortunately for Bright and Mraz, the freshman duo drew the No. 84 doubles team of Mylonas and sophomore Guzal Yusupova on court two. With Smith and Hauger’s 6-1 loss, the pressure was placed on both of Cal’s young doubles teams to come through or surrender an early advantage to Washington State.
That said, the unfamiliar pairings made things difficult on the Cougars, who had taken down a different set of Bears in doubles earlier this spring in Pullman. While Glozman and Rosenqvist pushed senior Barbora Michalkova and sophomore Melisa Ates to a 6-6 tie that was left unfinished, Bright and Mraz provided a glimpse into their bright (no pun intended) futures.
Mylonas and Yusupova prevailed, 7-5, but the fluctuating results were on. The Bears would get their revenge with singles wins from Hauger over Michalkova, Bright over Yusupova and Glozman over junior Aneta Miksovska. Suddenly, Cal held a 3-1 advantage, with a multitude of court results left undetermined.
In that matches that followed, each Washington State win required a third set to determine a victor. In the end, No. 26-ranked freshman Michaela Bayerlova squeaked past Rosenqvist, the No. 38 player in the nation, leaving the overall outcome hanging with Smith and Mylonas.
The Cougars would advance to the semifinals, where they fell to eventual Pac-12 champion Stanford. As for the Bears, they will hear about their NCAA tournament fate on May 1 as part of the annual selection show.