As Juricova era ends, Bears couldn’t get over the hump

Michael Tao/Staff
Annie Goransson and the Bears advanced to the quarterfinals of NCAAs, but will need younger talent to step up as the Jana Juricova era comes to an end.

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This July marks five years since Jan Brogan, the winningest coach in Cal tennis history, handed the reins of the women’s tennis program to her former star, Amanda Augustus. Since the coaching change – the team’s first since 1978 – Augustus has piloted the team to five consecutive successful seasons, yet Cal is no closer to its first championship in program history.

A quarterfinal loss to UCLA three weeks ago not only marked the end of the Bears’ team season, but also wrapped up the Jana Juricova era. One week later, Juricova failed to defend her NCAA singles title, falling to Stanford’s Nicole Gibbs, the eventual champion. The Slovakian star had missed more than a month of the season with a lower back injury, yet still ends her career in Berkeley with a whopping 149 singles wins and a closet full of personal trophies.

The last hurrah of Juricova’s storied collegiate career dovetailed with the emergence of a new star: freshman Zsofi Susanyi. Susanyi energized the Cal lineup with impassioned play, a complement to Juricova’s cool temperament. In a comparison that bodes well for the Bears’ future, Susanyi advanced to the singles semifinals in the NCAA tournament, two rounds further than Juricova reached in her first postseason.

Consistency has become a hallmark of the Bears’ squad under Augustus: the team has made the NCAA tournament five straight times, and has been in single-digit loss tallies for the entirety of her tenure. The No. 9 final ranking that Cal earned with its 20-9 record left the team unchanged from its final spot the previous year.

Yet part of the season’s success was due to the unexpected: notable breakout performances came from sophomore Anett Schutting, who posted a 36-12 mark, and junior Annie Goransson, who was 19-2 in duals matches. Together, Goransson and Schutting qualified for the NCAA tournament in doubles, giving the Bears newfound depth.

When Susanyi was ushered out of title contention by Mallory Burdette of Stanford, it was another example of a noteworthy trend for the Bears: the team’s ultimate inability to surge past its Pac-12 rivals. Stanford, UCLA and USC all finished the year in the top five, and the trio combined to hand Cal six of its seven losses.

For the third straight year, the Bears ended the season looking up at Stanford and UCLA in the final rankings. And with both the Cardinal and Bruins pulling in top ten recruiting classes, the fevered competition shows no sign of letting up.

Though the historical trends and future outlook seem troubling, Cal fans can be comforted how close their team came in a few vital matchups. In late February, the Bears lost back-to-back 4-3 matches in Los Angeles to UCLA and USC, both without Juricova. After a historic upset of the previously unbeaten Bruins in Berkeley, the Bears lost another 4-3 bout to USC, followed a week later by a 4-3 loss in Stanford.

For Augustus’s Bears, the question of when the team will get its big break still looms large. This year’s quarterfinal appearance in the NCAA tournament was the furthest the team reached since a startling run in 2009 that ended with a loss in the finals.

Five years in, Augustus now has seen her first recruiting class graduate, and sits two wins shy of 100 for her Cal coaching career. Even with enviable levels of talent and success, there is no doubt that the absence of a championship will continue to haunt the program.