The Cal women’s tennis team will be bringing more than its fundamentally solid, nearly mistake-free brand of tennis to Urbana, Ill., next week, when the next rounds of the NCAA tournament begin.
The Bears will also be bringing a good dose of Cal spirit with them.
The team has a tradition unlike any other — when the postseason rolls around, players spray-paint their tennis shoes blue and gold in honor of the university they play for and represent.
“Everyone kind of puts their own spin on it,” says coach Amanda Augustus, whose kicks are also a bright blue and gold. “But it has to be school colors.”
Some choose an electric gold that mirrors the state’s California poppies paired with a true and bright Yale blue — the two sources that the University of California borrowed its colors from. Other players are a little more subtle, preferring a metallic gold that doesn’t catch the eye as much but still stands out on the courts of Hellman Tennis Complex.
Some players take their Cal spirit beyond their footwear. Sophomore Zsofi Susanyi and freshman Klara Fabikova had blue streaks in their normally blond hair last weekend. Each also painted her nails in the university’s colors, alternating blue and gold for each finger.
Even the athletic tape that the players wore this weekend — normally green or pink — was shades of either blue or gold.
But the longest-standing tradition is definitely the shoes. Augustus says that the tradition predates her time as a player for Cal in the late ’90s. Her coach back then — the legendary Jan Brogan, who led the Bears to 25 NCAA appearances — also couldn’t pinpoint an exact date.
“I would be guessing as I coached for 29 years,” Brogan says. “But I can pin it down to the Lisa Albano era.”
Lisa Albano played for Cal from 1988 to 1992, placing the shoe-painting tradition at more than 20 years old.
Augustus carries on the tradition, having her players lay cardboard down on the track in Edwards Stadium so that they can spray paint their shoes. They have to paint a few weeks before the postseason begins, or else the shoes won’t be dry in time.
But the Bears haven’t had to worry about jinxing their postseason chances or painting the shoes prematurely yet — in Augustus’ six seasons as head coach, her teams haven’t missed the postseason once.
Cal’s rivals have caught on to the tradition and have started doing something similar, but the players maintain that the idea originated in Berkeley.
“We did it first,” says sophomore Cecilia Estlander. “USC and UCLA have kind of started doing it, but we did it first.”
Riley McAtee covers women’s tennis. Contact him at [email protected]