Cal restarts NCAA title aspirations sans Juricova

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The Cal women's tennis team enters its fall season, which is composed primarily of individually-entered tournaments as opposed to team dual matches

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Despite common misconception, head coach Amanda Augustus of cal women’s tennis team knows that collegiate tennis is more than just a spring sport.

“That’s the common thing that people don’t understand,” Augustus said. “They think we’re only a spring sport. But we play a lot in the fall.”

Because team competitions occur during the spring and a national champion is only declared at the conclusion of that dual season, most people tend to only pay attention to women’s tennis after the new year. Meanwhile, the fall portion of the year has more of an individual focus, as individual players compete head-to-head in tournaments.

Yet the first official rankings for the spring season are dictated by how teams compete throughout the fall.

Therefore, Cal’s quest for an NCAA Championship will begin long before the spring. Cal is set to embark on a 2012 fall season that features six tournaments, including two grand slams: the ITA/Riviera All-American Championships in Pacific Palisades and the USTA/ITA National Indoor Intercollegiate Championships.

As Augustus enters her sixth year at the helm of Cal’s program, her expectations are high for the Bears.

“We’re generally a perennial top 10 team in the country and a contender for the title,” Augustus said. “We train at that level: to be a contender every year.”

The Pac-12, typically recognized as one of the top tennis conferences, features the likes of Stanford, USC and UCLA, who were all top-10 national competitors at the end of the spring season.

The Bears ended last spring ranked as the No. 7 team in the country. Cal finished 20-7 overall and posted a 8-2 record in the Pac-12 which tied for third in the conference. The Bears, however, will have to deal with the departure of star senior Jana Juricova who completed her playing career for Cal last spring. Juricova, who fell in the NCAA quarterfinals last season, played on court No. 1 for the Bears and finished the season ranked No. 8 in the country.

Despite the loss, Senior Tayler Davis thinks that the team can overcome the absence of one of its key players.

Assuaging the Bears’ worries was Zsofi Susanyi’s breakout performance last year. As a freshman, the No.  9 Susanyi compiled an impressive overall record of 41-8, on her way to an appearance in the semifinals of the NCAA Championships last spring.

“The most important thing I learned is how to fight for the team, how to play for each other and put our individual needs behind and just focus on what’s good for everyone,” Susanyi said. “This is a new year. Everybody starts fresh. We’ll see how it works out.”

Ultimately, the fall season is the first step that the Bears will take to reach their spring goal: contending for the national title. Even though the national champion isn’t crowned until May, Augustus made it clear that’s where she eventually hopes the season takes them.

“The opportunity is there,” Augustus said. “We got to the NCAA quarterfinals last year as a team. The goal is to take it one step further.”

Sean Wagner-McGough covers women’s tennis. Cover him at [email protected]