Cal women’s tennis will host 16 team Cal Nike Invitational

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Led by a squad of some of the best women’s tennis players in the country, the Cal women’s tennis team will welcome the 2013-14 season with a home-court tournament debut.

The annual Cal Nike Invitational, which begins Friday at 8 a.m. and runs every day through Sunday, will host 16 teams from across the country at the Hellman and Channing tennis courts. This three-day battle will give the talented Cal team a chance to test its strength for the first time, albeit in familiar territory.

“We have had quite a bit of success in this tournament,” said coach Amanda Augustus. “It’s just a good time to check where we are fitnesswise and be able to see what we need to work on as we continue to build through the fall semester.”

After a successful 2012-13 season in which the Bears reached the NCAA round of 16 and finished with an ITA ranking of ninth in the country, there will be a lot of returning talent to look out for in this weekend’s event. Key players include junior Zsofi Susanyi, who earned a preseason singles ranking of No. 4 in the country, and senior Anett Schutting, who ranked No. 5. Both Susanyi and Schutting claimed ITA All-America honors last season, and they likely will fill the top singles seeds of this weekend’s tournament.

For Susanyi, whose personal goal is to defend last year’s Gold Flight singles title, such high expectations are not intimidating.

“I look at it as a challenge, because rankings have always been there for me, but for me it’s really just points, and I want to do as well as I can,” Susanyi said. “If I beat someone ranked higher than me, of course I’m happy, but it’s not going to set me back.”

This level-headed attitude will be necessary in a field as wide and competitive as this weekend’s. Among the teams featured is conference rival and reigning Pac-12 champion USC. This year’s Trojans include three singles players ranked in the top 20, including No.1 Sabrina Santamaria, No. 17 Zoe Scandalis and No. 19 Brynn Boren. USC also expects to have a strong showing in doubles, with Santamaria sharing the top doubles ranking with partner Kaitlyn Christian.

Other tournament teams to watch include Saint Mary’s and Santa Clara, which both showcase high-ranked singles and doubles combinations with experience in this particular tournament.

In last year’s Cal Nike Invitational, Susanyi defeated Schutting, 6-0, 6-2, in an all-Cal Gold Flight singles final. On the way to this victory, Susanyi advanced past Santa Clara’s fourth-seeded Katie Le in the semifinals, and Schutting beat Saint Mary’s sixth-seeded Jenny Jullien. All of these players return as contenders in this week’s tournament.

With the Bears and other tournament teams returning such strong casts, Cal realizes defending its backyard titles will not be easy. The Bears also realize success will depend not only on repeating last year’s performances but on building upon them.

“We were a fairly young team last year,” Augustus said. “So I’m looking forward to seeing what they’ve learned after last season and where they’re at.”

Dani Coony covers women’s tennis. Contact him at [email protected].