Cal women’s tennis looks to build off last year’s Pac-12 title

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The Hellman Tennis Complex epitomizes greatness with each sunken row after row of court. Greatness has been accomplished here: both greatness as a team and greatness as individuals.

Last season, the Cal women’s tennis team made it to the Sweet Sixteen of the NCAA Championships and semifinals at the Intercollegiate Tennis Association Championships, both of which helped place them as one of the top-10 teams in the nation. One of their most important victories came on the courts of Palo Alto, where the team clinched its first Pac-12 title. Lynn Chi, a sophomore who played on the No. 4 singles court on last year’s ladder, was the runner-up at the 2014 NCAA singles championship, after upsetting the tournament’s top-ranked player.

Other outstanding players include Denise Starr, who played on the top singles court as a freshman last year. She shined in the spring season, racking up All-Pac-12 first-team honors as well as finishing 35th in the ITA final singles rankings of the year. Alongside her doubles partner, Maegan Manasse, she finished ranked No. 33 in the ITA year-end rankings: Cal’s best doubles ranking.

In addition to the two freshmen, two sophomores — Chi and Klara Fabikova — played as starters on the team. Head coach Amanda Augustus has described the youth of the team as the greatest challenge last season, because they lacked the experience needed for big matches.

Zsofi Susanyi, now a senior, started No. 4 in the preseason singles poll last season and ended ranked No. 21, with a 26-10 overall singles record. Playing mainly on the No. 2 and No. 3 singles courts, she earned a spot on the All-Pac-12 second team.

What separates this team from others, however, is its focus on more than just athletics.

“They come here to achieve excellence in academics and athletics at the same time,” Augustus said. “I think we have a long story tradition that we try to uphold and enhance. Something I am very proud of is our 100-percent graduation rate.”

The fall season will serve as a roadmap to how the spring season will play out — the fall season is composed of individual tournaments rather than team events, the first of which is the Cal Nike Fall Invitational to be played Friday through Sunday. The individual tournaments will also give Augustus an idea as to where she should place each of the girls on the ladder for the upcoming spring season.

“My job is to facilitate them learning how to be a successful team, and if we do it right, then we do really well in May,” Augustus said.

Tennis stands out among other sports because players compete individually, yet their individual scores collectively represent the team’s result as a whole. Bringing the players together as a team can sometimes be a challenge.

“I think it’s part science and part art,” Augustus said. “We are a very tight-knit, family-oriented group.”

With five of six players returning from last year and three new players joining, the team has a clear shot of building upon past accomplishments.

Isabella Busacca covers women’s tennis. Contact her at [email protected].