After months of hard work, preparation and an impressive regular season, the No. 3 Cal women’s tennis team will head into the first round of the NCAA championships this weekend with a match against Bryant.
The Bears have a very deep squad, with five Pac-12 Player of the Week award recipients in No. 43 senior Zsofi Susanyi, No. 18 junior Klara Fabikova, No. 4 sophomore Maegan Manasse, No. 44 sophomore Denise Starr and No. 103 freshman Karla Popovic. All of these players, with the exception of Popovic, earned berths to the All Pac-12 team this season.
Cal will begin its NCAA campaign at the Hellman Tennis Complex, hosting Bryant in the first round. If Cal emerges victorious, it will face the winner of the match between No. 30 Houston and No. 33 Mississippi State.
“I think we’re prepared very well for the NCAAs,” Susanyi said. “We’ve played a lot of matches throughout the season and have had good victories. We’re focused, and our goal in the NCAAs is take it one match at a time.”
The Bears have been a force to be reckoned with in the doubles throughout this season. The No. 5 duo of Susanyi and Fabikova has been very consistent and has given some clutch performances throughout the season. Similarly, the No. 7 pair of Manasse and Starr has been very crucial to the team’s strong performances this season. Cal will look to win the doubles point in its match against Bryant, as it will help the Bears build momentum going into the singles.
Manasse is expected to lead the Bears on court No. 1. Her forehand and astute net play has been crucial to her posting big wins for Cal. She has compiled a 36-7 record in singles and will look to play some effective tennis in the NCAAs.
Her doubles partner, Starr, has the tendency to clinch the team matches against big opponents such as Stanford. Her solid groundstrokes and backhand slice help her in setting up a tempo for the game, which has helped her win. Starr was undefeated in Pac-12 play throughout the season and will be critical for Cal’s success in the NCAAs.
Susanyi, too, will be important to the team’s championship aspirations. She’s had a good season, especially in singles, and her experience and game strategy to tire out her opponents will prove to be important for the Bears, as will Fabikova’s powerful strokes. Fabikova has had a stellar season, and she capped it off by reaching the finals of the Pac-12 Singles Championship. Add to that the experience and superb volleying of senior Cecilia Estlander, and Cal looks to be a strong contender for the title.
No. 50 junior Lynn Chi’s form after her return from injury has been superb, and she will look to make a big impact on the NCAAs. Sophomore Stephane Lin and freshmen Lyann Hoang and Popovic could make their debuts at the NCAAs, where they would be motivated to perform well as first-timers and go the distance.
“The freshmen are prepared really well,” Susanyi said. “With the NCAAs, you never know what’s going on until you reach there. I remember in my freshman year, everybody was talking about the NCAAs, and once I was there, I realized this was the big show.”
Bryant’s and Cal’s other potential opponents do bring an element of surprise, which could be troublesome for the Bears.
“We’ll focus on our game and play to win and advance to the next rounds,” said head coach Amanda Augustus. “The NCAAs are finally starting. We’ve talked about this throughout the season, and now we have to perform.”
Devang Prasad covers women’s tennis. Contact him at [email protected].