Seeing a season come to a premature end is always disappointing. Seeing it come to an end in a nail-biter against your biggest rivals borders on heartbreaking. But that’s just what the Cal women’s tennis team dealt with after losing to Stanford in the NCAA Round of 16 in Waco, Texas.
For the No. 3 Bears, this result is especially disappointing, as it makes two consecutive years that they have been unable to get past Stanford at this exact juncture. Still, there is time to salvage this season for the team, as Cal will be competing in the NCAA Singles and Doubles Finals later in the week. Sophomores Maegan Manasse and Denise Starr, senior Zsofi Susanyi and junior Klara Fabikova will stay in Waco to vie for the top spot.
But that will not be enough for the Bears to completely overlook their defeat against the Cardinal, especially considering the close manner in which they lost the match. Stanford needed to wait until the very last point before it could get its requisite four and clinch the match with a 4-3 win.
The Bears and the Cardinal went into the last match tied at three points apiece, and it was going to come down to a battle of goliaths to decide who would move on — No. 4 Manasse took on Stanford’s No. 2 Carol Zhao. As if having the match go to the full seven points in order to decide it wasn’t enough, Manasse’s bout with Zhao went to the full three sets.
Zhao took the first set with ease, winning, 6-2. Going into the second set fighting for Cal’s life at the tournament, Manasse came through. She won a tight set, 7-5, against Zhao and ensured the match would go the distance. Zhao, however, quickly dealt with the Bears’ resistance and dominated the final set to win, 6-1, and seal the match for the Cardinal.
“In the third set, the team really pulled me through,” Zhao told Stanford Athletics. “After a tough second set, where I had some chances to pull ahead, I really just regrouped in the third by putting the team first, and that gave me a lot of energy.”
Even with this tough defeat, Cal still had some positive showings to take away from the match, especially among the Bears’ lower-ranked players. No. 43 Susanyi was the highest ranked Cal player to win in the singles, as she made easy work of Stanford’s No. 92 Krista Hardebeck, winning, 6-1, 6-1. Cal’s No. 103 Karla Popovic, who is a freshman, also won, defeating Stanford’s Lindsey Kostas, 6-1, 6-0. In the doubles, Cal’s only unranked pair of Popovic and junior Lynn Chi was the only one to win, as they defeated Krista Hardebeck and Lindsey Kostas, 8-1.
Cal’s real trouble in the match came not from its lower-ranked players; rather, it was the higher-ranked players’ inability to win that hurt the Bears. Along with Manasse, No. 18 Fabikova and No. 44 Starr also lost their singles matches on courts two and three, respectively. Cal’s two top-10 ranked pairs — the duos of No. 5 Fabikova and Susanyi, and No. 7 Manasse and Starr— lost their doubles matches, giving the crucial doubles point to the Cardinal. If any one of these results had gone the other way, the Bears would have done enough to advance past their rival.
Despite the narrow defeat against its traditional rivals, there isn’t any animosity on Cal’s side. Instead, the Bears seem to respect the fact that they lost to a program with a history as rich as that of the Cardinal, which holds 18 national championships in the sport.
“It’s unfortunate we had to meet them in the round of 16, but that’s how the draw shakes out,” Cal head coach Amanda Augustus told Cal Athletics. “Stanford’s from our conference, and we wish them well going forward.”
Hooman Yazdanian is the sports editor. Contact him at [email protected].