Rankings worthless as daunting Cardinal roll into town

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If the Cal women’s tennis team bases its expectations on national rankings, it is in for a shock.

The No. 7 Bears will be clear underdogs on Friday when they host No. 11 Stanford, a team that plummeted from a well-deserved top spot in the formula-driven ITA rankings, at 1:30 p.m. at the Hellman Tennis Complex. The path to a NCAA team championship for Cal will likely run through Stanford (6-0), who has won six of the previous 11 NCAA titles.

The road to victory for the blue and gold may be steeper than expected, as the team enters the match on a few ignominious streaks. The Bears (6-3) have lost their last three matches, albeit against top-10 opponents. Players on courts three through six have posted a record of just 2-9 during the skid, and the third court doubles pairings have lost three straight.

The home team will also look to end its four-game losing streak against Stanford, dating back to April 2009. It is hard to fault Cal for this measure, though, as the Cardinal have dropped just one match (last year’s NCAA championship) in their last 52 outings.

“It’s a great rivalry because you always have really high-quality matches,” said coach Amanda Augustus. “There shouldn’t be a lot of errors, because they know what to expect. It’s similar to playing a teammate in a match.”

That lofty level of success has not dropped off this season. Stanford’s Mallory Burdette and Nicole Gibbs are the nation’s top doubles team, and both are ranked in the top 10 in singles. In six wins thus far, Stanford has not dropped a doubles match; the pinnacle of those victories was a home win over defending national champion Florida.

“We’ve seen these pairings before, so I think we have really good opportunities,” Augustus said.

To win, the Bears’ racket-wielders will have to improve on their 2-7 mark against Stanford in tournament season. Jana Juricova, who has posted a 15-10 record against Stanford in her heralded career, will be pivotal to Cal’s success. Juricova has missed the previous two matches with a lower back strain, and her status is uncertain for Friday.

“It’s just like the weather,” Augustus said of Juricova’s day-to-day status. “We keep our fingers crossed.”

Following the two close losses in Los Angeles last weekend, the team has focused its efforts on preparing for Stanford’s aggressive game. Cal coaches have redoubled their efforts to improve the team’s ability to play off the “first strike” tendencies of the Cardinal and subsequent counterattack.

Saturday’s matchup will be more conducive to victory as No. 24 Pepperdine (5-2) visits Berkeley for a noon match. In each of the previous three years, Cal has dominated the Waves for 7-0 victories, although Pepperdine’s only losses this season have come against Stanford and Florida.

Wins against Pepperdine, a surging mid-major, or Stanford, the most prestigious program in collegiate tennis, will certainly boost the  Bears’ resume. Whether victories will have any effect on their ranking, the most sacred of collegiate sports figures, is unclear.