Indoors, Bears look to survive Hurricanes

Ashley Chen/Staff
Freshman Cecilia Estlander registered a 6-1, 6-1 decision in Cal’s 6-1 victory over San Diego State last Wednesday.

Since its season began in September, the Cal women’s tennis team has been focused on a singular goal: winning the NCAA Team Championships in late May. This weekend’s ITA National Team Indoor Championships will serve as a checkpoint for that aim, as the No. 7 Bears (4-0) are hoping to parlay their hot start to the season into national success.

When the team traveled to Charlottesville, Va., early Wednesday morning, it marked its first trip away from home (discounting a jaunt to Santa Clara) in over three months. The team has racked up victories over that stretch, although it has not faced a team in the top 25.

That streak of measly opponents will end with No. 11 Miami; the Bears will attempt to brave the Hurricanes 9 a.m. Friday morning in a first round match. Seniors Anna Bartenstein (No. 15) and Gabriela Mejia are the top singles players for Miami (2-0). Bartenstein’s three-set loss to Cal senior Jana Juricova in October bodes well for the Bears, as the two will likely clash again on the No. 1 singles court.

“It’s going to be easier because I have a strategy,” Juricova said. “It should be a good match, though.”

Also notable is the fact that it will be Juricova’s first match since suffering a wrist injury Jan. 27 against UNLV. Juricova was held out of singles in Cal’s previous two matches.

“It’s not the first time there’s something going on,” Juricova said of her injury. “I’ve been hitting normally the last week, so I feel very good, and I don’t think it affects anything.”

Her return will provide the team with its first full singles lineup, as freshman Zsofi Susanyi missed Cal’s first two singles matches due to NCAA eligibility issues.

In three of the last four years, the Bears have been knocked out of Indoors by Northwestern, including a 4-1 upset last February in the first round. Having the Wildcats on the opposite side of the 16-team bracket may be a positive omen for Cal.

No. 3 Duke is the top seed in the tournament, as the highest-ranked in the country, Florida and Stanford, are not in the field. Cal, the fifth seed, will play the winner of Georgia and Texas on Saturday if the Bears stave off the ‘Canes. However, coach Amanda Augustus believes looking ahead could be a blunder.

“The match we are playing (Friday) is the most important one on our schedule because it’s the one right in front of us,” Augustus said. ” We have to fight each point and make sure the girls are focused on their court because then the momentum can get away from you.”

Besides the increased competition, Cal will also have to grapple with a rare indoor event. Indoors, balls usually travel faster, creating quicker points; thus, a larger premium is placed on playmaking.

The team has been practicing at the San Francisco Tennis Club over the past week, and Augustus even scheduled early morning practices to ameliorate the effects of the three-hour time difference.

“I think we are ready to go,” Augustus said.