Juricova enters final year seeking to lead Bears to first championship

Eugene W. Lau/File
Jana Juricova enters the season as the NCAA’s defending singles champion.

Facing Georgia in the third round of last years’ NCAA team championship, the Cal women’s tennis team, ranked No. 9 in the country with an 18-6 record, look poised to move on to the next round, where a matchup with Stanford awaited.

Although the match was tied 3-3, the Bears had Jana Juricova, the top player in the country and the winner of 20 straight singles matches, on the court. However, Georgia standout Chelsey Gullickson outlasted Juricova in three sets, ousting Cal and ending hopes of a championship run.

In some consolation, Juricova walloped Gullickson eight days later in the quarterfinals of the NCAA singles championship, a tournament in which Juricova reasserted her supremacy and ended up with the title.

But, to Juricova and coach Amanda Augustus, the ultimate coda to her storied career will be a team championship.

“That’s the one title she doesn’t have yet, so I think it’s a big motivating factor for her this year and for our whole group,” Augustus said. “I think that’s what we’re about every year, but I think having someone who’s gotten it done before certainly helps.”

Juricova, a senior, is the preseason No. 1 player for the second straight year, but lost her doubles partner Mari Andersson to graduation. The two were 98-20 over the past three years, including an NCAA doubles championship in 2009. Sophomore Anett Schutting, who came into her own late last year, is the top contender to play with Juricova.

“I think we’ll use the fall to try out some different people and our goal, while we are still shooting for individual titles, is to try to find the three best doubles teams,” Augustus said.

The doubles’ point may be the key to the upcoming season. In team matches last year, Cal was 17-0 when it won the doubles’ point, underscoring the importance of having three capable teams.

The court No. 3 doubles team lost its first six matches last season; seven different combinations in the slot went only 10-14 on the year. Down the stretch, the pair of current junior Tayler Davis and current sophomore Alice Duranteau added some stability, and those two may play together again.

Whatever lineup does emerge from the fall tournament season will be put to the test, as Cal will face top-notch competition again this year. Stanford, coming off a season in which its only defeat came in the championship match, loses second-ranked singles player and Juricova nemesis Hilary Barte, but returns a top team.

Augustus believes that the fall will be an opportune time to get her team in shape for what will be a tough spring.

“It’s a developmental period, both physically and technically, so it’s a good balance because they get to compete and we do have a bit of time to improve their skill set so that will hopefully get us ready for the big matches.”

For Juricova, this season represents a final opportunity to add to her trophy collection the most important prize: a team championship. The Bears’ lineup is still shaping up and questions remain, but Augustus is confident that Juricova’s track record will help the team mesh and succeed.

“Having an established record and an established player on your team really helps the other girls know what they are shooting for,” Augustus said.