Cal women’s tennis crowned ITA National Women’s Team Indoor champions

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The decade and a half wait is finally over for the No. 6 Cal women’s tennis team.

After narrowly missing out on the ITA National Women’s Team Indoor Championships final last year, the Bears reached the championship round Monday in Madison, Wisconsin, where they defeated North Carolina, 4-3, to be crowned champions for the first time.

The Bears quickly asserted their dominance in the round of 16, when they overpowered host Wisconsin, 4-0. Head coach Amanda Augustus’ squad notched the doubles point, courtesy of the No. 43 duo of senior Klara Fabikova and freshman Olivia Hauger and the No. 3 pair of juniors Maegan Manasse and Denise Starr.

Starr maintained her fine form in singles play, as she defeated the Badgers’ Maria Avgerinos, 6-1, 6-1. Her teammates, Hauger and senior Lynn Chi, secured the victory for Cal in their respective matches against Sydney Rider and Kendall Kirsch. The result allowed the Bears to advance to the quarterfinals to face No. 7 Virginia.

Despite being a top-10 program, the Cavaliers didn’t provide Cal much of a challenge.

The Bears picked up the doubles point after Manasse and Starr beat Danielle Collins and Meghan Kelley, 6-2.

In singles action, Starr clinched the match-winning point in her fixture against Virginia’s Victoria Olivarez, 6-0, 3-6, 6-3. The junior’s result gave Cal a 4-1 finish and propelled the team to the semifinals, where it was truly tested for the first time by No. 16 Ohio State.

The Bears were unable to establish a solid start against the Buckeyes in doubles play, like they had against Wisconsin and Virginia. The pair of Chi and freshman Maria Smith lost to Olivia Sneed and Francesca Di Lorenzo, 6-4. Unfortunately for Cal, Manasse and Starr failed to keep the doubles point within reach, as they ultimately fell to the No. 6 duo of Anna Sanford and Miho Kowase, 7-6 (5).

But Cal got back on track in singles play. Fabikova began the comeback with her, 6-2, 6-1, victory versus Gabriella De Santis. The Buckeyes responded by picking up two wins, thanks to Di Lorenzo and Sanford. But sophomore Karla Popovic, Starr and Hauger topped their opposition to defeat Ohio State, 4-3. Their efforts helped the Bears progress to the championship match.

The final against the Tar Heels proved to be another difficult ordeal for Augustus’ team as Cal got off to another bad start in doubles play. The pair of Fabikova and Hauger lost to Jessie Aney and Kate Vialle, 6-1, while Chi and Smith fell to Ashley Dai and Chloe Ouellet-Pizer, 6-4.

The losses, however, didn’t deter the Bears much. Instead, Fabikova kept the Bears in contention by defeating Whitney Kay, 6-2, 7-5, to tie the match 1-1. Determined to help the Bears remain in contention, Popovic and Chi came through with major wins against Ouellet-Pizer and Vialle, which gave Cal a 3-2 advantage. This left Cal needing only one more win to claim the tournament title, but the Tar Heels remained pugnacious and tied it up at 3-3, off of Aney’s, 7-6(1), 6-4, victory over Starr. With the hopes of her team on her back, Hauger remained calm and topped Marika Akkerman, 7-5, 2-6, 7-5, to hand the Bears the championship that they had come so close to capturing 16 years ago.

Contact Manny Flores at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @manny_0