“Our goal is to be the No. 1 team and win the NCAAs,” said junior Anett Schutting back in February.
And 16 wins and 5 losses later, the Cal women’s tennis team could be in a position to do just that. As the No. 8 team in the country, the Bears earned the right to host the first and second rounds of the NCAA tournament.
And though they were only able to muster a second place finish in the Pac-12, the Bears feel good about accomplishing the goal Schutting set three months ago.
“I like our chances,” said freshman Lynn Chi on Wednesday. “Hopefully, we can go all the way. I like our chances for that.”
The Bears (16-5) are prepared to steamroll through this first leg of the tournament. They play their first opponent, Stony Brook, on Friday at 1 p.m. at the Hellman Tennis Complex in Berkeley.
Cal knows little about Stony Brook (12-4), a university smaller than UC Berkeley that is located in Long Island, N.Y. Stony Brook did not play a single ranked opponent all year and only made the tournament by winning the American East Conference.
Should the Bears beat the Seawolves, they will go on to face the winner of the other first-round matchup — either St. Mary’s or Auburn — at noon on Saturday. No. 21 Auburn just missed the cutoff for hosting the first two rounds of the NCAAs, as only the top-16 squads gain home court advantage. Meanwhile the Bears crushed Saint Mary’s in January in a 7-0 route.
As the only Goliath in a first round full of Davids, the biggest challenge for the Bears will be adjusting to the slightly different rules between the tournament and the regular season. Though matches are the same format, they end as soon as a team clinches the match with four points, so some players will not go on to finish their individual match.
“We just play to four, so when we clinch the match, it just stops,” said Cal coach Amanda Augustus. “It’s a little bit of an adjustment mentally to not lose concentration if someone is up and about to win. (They have to be) keeping attention on their own court.”
While the Bears have made it to at least the sweet 16 in the last six years, they are not getting ahead of themselves.
“You have to take it match by match,” Augustus said. “You can’t assume anything at this time of year, because all these teams have played a lot of tennis, and they wouldn’t be in the tournament if they didn’t have a good season.”
For Cal, the real advantage to hosting the beginning of the tournament is not having home court advantage or being the highest seed — it’s being home for finals week. While schools like Stony Brook and Auburn have to make the long trek to Berkeley this week, the Bears will be able to sleep in their own beds at night.
“It’s huge,” Augustus said. “Especially with finals on the horizon and all their office hours, review sessions, tutoring, papers and all this stuff they got. So they don’t have to deal with that too much — until hopefully next week.”
Riley McAtee covers women’s tennis. Contact him at [email protected]