Cal women’s tennis player Denise Starr poised to hit next level

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The No. 7 Cal women’s tennis team’s depth and talent made it challenging for an emerging player such as sophomore Denise Starr, who finished the season ranked No. 50, to assert herself as one of the top-three singles players on the team. The team put together a strong showing during the 2014-15 season, with dominating singles and doubles performances throughout the year led by three top-30 athletes: sophomore Maegan Manasse, junior Klara Fabikova and senior Zsofi Susanyi. The latter two led the Bears to the brink of an NCAA Championship in doubles.

Starr managed to capitalize on her opportunities and went a perfect 9-0 as Cal’s court No. 2 singles player, 7-3 on court three and 5-1 at court four. Starr made the most of her opportunities in her doubles tandem with Manasse, and the duo finished the season ranked No. 9.

Starr earned accolades as a singles player with her first Pac-12 Player of the Week award in March, when she helped Cal earn 7-0 wins over Colorado and Utah. She defeated Colorado’s Nuria Ormeno Ruiz, 6-1, 6-2, and Utah’s Luisa Gerstner Da Rose, 6-1, 6-3 at court three singles.

The departure of Susanyi paves the way for Starr to take advantage of a new role, where she can emerge as a top singles athlete for the team to pair with her already-established credentials as a doubles player. Starr’s emergence would considerably improve the Bears’ chances to take the next step and dominate next season. Starr earned All-American honors for the first time in her collegiate career with her performance alongside Manasse in doubles and took an honorable mention for the All-Pac-12 team.

Head coach Amanda Augustus said it would be hard to pinpoint a specific athlete as the top player heading into next season but figured that Starr would certainly be in contention.

“I would say the three All-Americans — Maegan, Denise and Klara — (are poised for the strongest seasons),” Augustus said.

Starr performed well when it mattered in the NCAA Doubles Championships alongside Manasse, beating tough opponents such as Notre Dame’s then-No. 29 duo of Quinn Gleason and Monica Robinson, 6-2, 6-1, before a heartbreaking loss to Stanford’s then-No. 10 Caroline Doyle and Ellen Tsay in the round of 16, 6-4, 1-6, 6-4.

The doubles team of Manasse and Starr excelled in some especially tough matchups last season to show signs of promise heading into next season. The duo defeated their ranked teammates Lynn Chi and Susanyi, 8-4, in the Cal Fall Nike Invitational and provided a sensational upset of UCLA’s then-No. 3 doubles team of Catherine Harrison and Kyle McPhillips, 8-4. These strong showings early in Starr’s and Manasse’s collegiate careers are indicative of good things going into the future, as the young athletes have shown that they can hold their own against tough competition.

Augustus said the coaching staff will monitor Starr and the rest of the women’s tennis athletes as they work over the summer to refine their skills so as to continue dominating the competition heading into next season.

“The summer is a really good time for them to continue developing their game and improving without having the additional load of school, so … a lot of them train and compete a lot over the summer to keep improving,” Augustus said.

If Starr can indeed improve next year, the Cal faithful will have a lot to look forward to.

Shiktij Dave is a sports reporter. Contact him at [email protected].