Cal women’s tennis hosts resurgent No. 6 Pepperdine

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USC. UCLA. Cal. Pepperdine. At the Division 1 sports level, Pepperdine is, historically speaking, incomparable to the Pac-12 powerhouses that traditionally headline news feeds at a far more frequent rate. But when talking strictly about women’s tennis, the Pac-12 schools take a backseat to the No. 6 Waves, a squad that presents a legitimate case for the nation’s best team this season.

“I think (the Waves) are taking people by surprise this year, and they’ve definitely made a jump with a couple of big additions to their roster,” said Cal head coach Amanda Augustus. “They made the finals at team indoors, so that’s a very impressive start to their year.”

Pepperdine (6-1) strolls into Berkeley this Saturday with a lot of credibility, beginning its NorCal trip at Stanford on Friday for its first match since falling 4-2 to No. 1 North Carolina at the ITA National Team Indoor Championships on Feb. 12. Malibu is a long way from Madison, Wisconsin, where the Waves made their presence known by weaving their way to the championship match and putting up an impressive fight against the No. 1 Tar Heels.

Positioned as high as the No. 2 ranking this season, Pepperdine boasts a lineup that consists of not one, but two top-15 singles players — No. 13 sophomore Ashley Lahey and No. 14 senior Mayar Sherif.

But the Waves’ stardom is a far cry from stopping there. Four additional players in Pepperdine’s lineup are highlighted in the top-100 singles rankings, and collectively, the Waves’ front six pair up to produce three of the top-60 doubles teams.

Meanwhile, the Bears (4-3), who were swept last weekend against the Trojans and No. 9 Bruins, have been reliant on a talented but inexperienced group of freshmen in the early going.

The pair of losses dropped Cal from No. 17 to No. 44 in the latest team rankings, a drop that is difficult to gauge with the hopeful return of senior All-American Karla Popovic looming large. For now, the veteran leadership of juniors Olivia Hauger and Maria Smith continues to be of value to a freshman core led by Anna Bright and Julia Rosenqvist.

After a bumpy start in its first match against USC, Cal deployed a new set of doubles pairings against UCLA. While the Bears dropped the doubles point for the second consecutive day, they came out much more aggressively and executed well against some of the Bruins’ top duos.

“We totally played three different doubles teams the second day,” Augustus said. “Overall we played much stronger and more aggressive. I think we are going to try and build with those teams and see how it goes for a couple of weeks with that.”

Cal has the benefit of a week between matches before playing host on Saturday, while the Waves play Friday at No. 40 Stanford for the front end of its back-to-back. Win or lose, the Waves stand as one of the hottest teams in the country and the Bears’ head coach isn’t shying away from the challenge.

“We love matches like that and we always want to be playing the top national competition because that’s what we are about, and that’s how we’ll get our ranking to where it normally is,” Augustus said.

Josh Yuen is an assistant sports editor. Contact him at [email protected].