This year’s NCAA Tournament in Waco, Texas, was marred with unfortunate deja vu for Cal women’s tennis. The third-seeded Bears dropped a heartbreaker to 14th-seeded Stanford, 4-3, in the round of 16. Getting upset by their rival made for a bitter ending to the Bears’ season, especially because the team had beaten the Cardinal twice during the regular season. But the premature exit does not completely detract from the great success the team accomplished during an NCAA run that took it to the round of 16, which included easy victories in the first two rounds.
The first round of the tournament saw Cal defeat Bryant without much difficulty. The doubles team of junior Lynn Chi and freshman Karla Popovic took down Bryant’s duo of Briana Leonard and Linnea Sjoberg, 8-1, on court No. 3 to give Cal its first point of the game. The seventh-ranked doubles team of sophomores Maegan Manasse and Denise Starr also claimed an 8-1 victory against Ryan Brown and Marion Bouillin on court No. 1 to clinch the doubles point for Cal.
In singles, senior Zsofi Susanyi knocked off Sjoberg, 6-1, 6-1, on court No. 3 to give Cal a 3-0 advantage. On court No. 5, Cecilia Estlander, a senior, sealed the deal against Ashanti Campfield, 6-1, 6-0, to secure Cal’s 4-0 victory, which pitted Cal in a second-round matchup against Mississippi State.
The Bears dominated Mississippi State in doubles as the team of Manasse and Starr knocked off the Bulldogs’ duo of Georgiana Patrasc and Martina Frantova, 8-1, on court No. 1. The fifth-ranked duo of Susanyi and Klara Fabikova knocked off Jasmine Lee and Naomi Tran, 8-2, on court No. 2, which brought in the doubles point for Cal.
The singles teams also dominated for the Bears. On court No. 3, Frantova got injured and couldn’t play the second set after having lost the first set, 6-0, to Starr. Susanyi knocked off Louis Ronaldson, 6-1, 6-1, on court No. 4. Fabikova, who ranked 18th in singles, knocked off 107th-ranked Patrasc, 6-3, 6-2, on Bud Chandler to secure the 4-0 victory for Cal.
Against Stanford, the team’s strength — its doubles teams — became its undoing. Chi and Popovic took a commanding 8-1 match against Krista Hardebeck and Lindsey Kostas on court No. 3. But the tides turned quickly in a matchup of juggernauts as Stanford’s 10th-ranked duo of Caroline Doyle and Ellen Tsay dispatched Cal’s Susanyi and Fabikova, 8-4, on court No. 2. Stanford captured the doubles point on court No. 1 with its second-ranked team of Carol Zhao and Taylor Davidson, defeating Manasse and Starr, 8-6.
In addition to the team’s run in the NCAA Tournament, the fifth-ranked duo of Susanyi and Fabikova made a fierce run all the way to the NCAA doubles final, which they lost to the defending champions from Alabama, Maya Jansen and Erin Routliffe, 6-2, 6-7(5), 6-3. Even though they couldn’t come away with the title, the duo showed grit and determination throughout their improbable run to the finals.
While the team was obviously disappointed by the way its NCAA bid ended against its lower-ranked rivals, emerging talents on the team, such as Manasse and Starr, have the capability and experience to continue to improve and lead the Bears into next season, where they hope to pass the barrier that has been the round of 16 and emerge as a true national-title contender.
Shiktij Dave is a sports reporter. Contact him at [email protected].