Close just doesn’t cut it in sports.
In the end, that’s where No. 8 Cal came against No. 1 Florida in the Elite Eight of the NCAA Tournament on Sunday. The Bears nearly pulled the upset in a much more competitive match than the final 4-2 score would suggest.
But before that match, Cal had to battle against No. 9 Alabama on Friday in the Sweet 16. That match was also close — two singles matches went into third sets and two more featured tie-breaker sets.
Since April, Cal has struggled with its doubles play, and it was no different against Alabama. The Crimson Tide soon roared to a 1-0 lead, thanks to 8-5 wins on courts No. 1 and No. 3 in doubles.
“We started first thing in the morning, and we looked a little slow,” said Cal coach Amanda Augustus.
But in singles, Cal shrugged off the rust and ripped off four straight wins to claim a 4-1 victory and a spot in the Elite Eight.
Fast forward to Sunday against the Gators, and the story started out in almost the same fashion. Cal lost the doubles point but looked to rebound in singles against the top squad in the country.
Zsofi Susanyi began the Bears’ potential comeback. She flew to a 6-1, 6-1 victory against Florida’s Alexandra Cercone on court No. 3 to even the match.
Meanwhile, junior Anett Schutting had the tough task of facing the No. 1 player in the country, Lauren Embree. Schutting, the No. 8 player herself, could not hold off Embree and fell, 6-2, 6-0 to make the match score 2-1.
On court No. 4, freshman Lynn Chi was engaged with Brianna Morgan, a quick, aggressive player much like herself. Morgan blanked Chi in the first set, 6-0, but Chi began a remarkable turnaround, winning the second set 6-2 and pushing the match to a third set.
“Usually, (Lynn Chi) is pretty aggressive with her opponent, and I think this girl came out and hit the ball at her,” Augustus said. “I think Lynn handled it well, and she settled down and got back to work.”
While Chi attempted to make a comeback, senior Tayler Davis and freshman Klara Fabikova each finished their matches — but with opposite results. While Davis lost 6-1, 6-4, Fabikova pounded her opponent to a 7-5, 6-4 victory. With the match now at 3-2, the result came down to Chi and senior Annie Goransson’s matches.
Florida just needed one more victory to clinch the match, and Goransson was down 5-2 in her second set on the No. 6 court. It would take a small miracle for Cal to come back.
It was a miracle that Cal would not get. Caroline Hitimana attacked Goransson at the net to finally put the match away for the Gators, robbing Chi of her chance at a comeback. The final score was 4-2.
With that, Cal’s season as a team ended, leaving the Bears to think about what could have been.
“Lynn was about to win her match,” Augustus said. “It might have made the difference for one of the seniors — I don’t know.”
Riley McAtee covers women’s tennis. Contact him at [email protected]