Denise Starr and Maegan Manasse star for Cal women’s tennis in fall season

Karen Chow/Staff

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Hopes were high for the Cal women’s tennis team coming off five straight years of top-10 finishes, but its impressive play in the fall slate may have managed to raise expectations even more. The fall slate is somewhat of a warmup for the spring, as teams play a scattering of multischool tournaments rather than jamming the schedule with dual matches against specific schools. The most important thing is figuring out what singles players and doubles teams are deserving of playing time in the spring. Impressively, Cal seems to have pieced an unclear puzzle together while winning quite a bit along the way.

The doubles team of juniors Maegan Manasse and Denise Starr might be the breakout national stars of the fall. They claimed a title at the Riviera/ITA All-American Championships and made a semifinals appearance at National Indoor Intercollegiate Championships as the third-ranked team in the nation.

Manasse, ranked fourth nationally, hasn’t quite reached her full potential in singles thus far. She won the top title at the Cal Nike Invitational, but failed to make it past the semifinals of the All-American tournament. She also disappointingly fell in the round of 16 at the Indoor Intercollegiates to seventh-ranked Sydney Campbell of Vanderbilt. Manasse was briefly the top-ranked player last year, and will be competing for that honor once again.

Cal’s next best singles player, 16th-ranked senior Klara Fabikova, claimed two consolation titles and found what appears to an excellent doubles partner in freshman Olivia Hauger. Last year, she and current undergraduate assistant coach Zsofi Susanyi made for a potent combo, winning the USTA/ITA Northwest Regional Championships and making the finals in the NCAA Championship. Fabikova was originally paired with sophomore Karla Popovic this season, but after disappointing play at the Nike Invitational, Cal head coach Amanda Augustus decided to make a change.

“Hopefully I’m going to be playing with (Hauger), so we can keep working on our play and being more in sync,” Fabikova said. “I think I can focus on improving my fitness. We played a lot of tournaments in the fall so we didn’t have that much time to work on (it). Winter break will be a good time to focus on that.”

Hauger impressed in singles and doubles, proving Augustus’ claim that her style would make for a smooth transition to the collegiate ranks. She never flinched playing opponents older, bigger and stronger than her. Her forehand is not particularly powerful, but with her wits and beautiful up-the-line backhand, she displayed an ability to frustrate opponents and earn comeback wins.

Another player with an impressive season debut was the Bears only other senior, Lynn Chi. Chi has made her way back from an injury to open the season in the final tournament of the semester. She was very impressive in her first match play since May, claiming third place in the ASU Thunderbird Invitational. She defeated Arizona State’s Ebony Panoho 6-2, 2-6, 6-2, after falling to Michigan’s Kate Fahey 6-3, 6-3 in the semifinals. Chi is ranked 39th in the nation, and will seemingly be starting next semester completely healthy.

“I’m so happy to see (Chi) back on the court,” Fabikova said. “Seeing her back in practice with us gives the whole team so much joy. We’re starting to get used to our roles (as team leaders) now … and hopefully we can lead the team to victory at the NCAA Tournament.”

With what looks like two top flight doubles teams and two elite singles players, the sky is the limit for the Bears. Cal, however, has not finished the spring season in the top five since the 2008-09 season, despite the impressive run over the past five years.

“I think our goals are to get from finishing seventh last year to get to be (in the top five),” Augustus said. “It’s just a little bit of improvement, it’s nothing drastic. We’re continually successful on the national stage, our goal is to win national championships. (But) there are lots of measures of success, I don’t think you can pin me down to just one.”

Andrew Wild covers women’s tennis. Contact him at [email protected]