Cal women’s tennis enters Pac-12 Championships with plenty to prove

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The lights seem to shine on a court brightest during postseason play, and those who step up for their team are remembered as stars.

Entering the Pac-12 Championships with the No. 4 seed and an 11-8 overall record, the Cal women’s tennis team is on the outside looking in, with Stanford, UCLA and Arizona State currently slotted ahead of it. The Bears, however, will look to a star of their own to get it done.

Highlighted by the emergence of #PlayoffRondo (point guard Rajon Rondo), the New Orleans Pelicans shocked the NBA world by upsetting the favored Portland Trail Blazers last week, showcasing why seeds are oftentimes just overrated numbers.

Like the Pelicans, the Bears are viewed as an underdog on paper, but they are hopeful that their freshman core and #PlayoffHauger (junior Olivia Hauger) will step up and take their team deep into the Pac-12 tournament.

Currently, Cal is set to play Washington State in its first pairing of the tournament, with the winner advancing to play No. 1-seeded Stanford in the semifinals.

The tournament final will take place Saturday on Pac-12 Network, with the victor of that match securing an automatic bid to the NCAA tournament beginning next month.

While the past several weeks have a lot to say about how teams stack up in the annual West Coast tournament in Ojai, all the Bears are focused on is this week’s task at hand. Hauger’s track record for big moments in late April or May is well-documented, as are the fantastic spring seasons that freshmen Anna Bright, Vivian Glozman and Julia Rosenqvist have pieced together in their inaugural year.

Put simply, don’t sleep on the Bears just yet.

Even a 4-0 defeat at the hands of the Cardinal to conclude the regular season hasn’t deterred the team’s mindset just days before the real deal begins.

“We split the doubles with Stanford and were at five-all on the third court of doubles,” said head coach Amanda Augustus. “We were right there, and I think that shows what we can do.”

With a robust 6-4 record in the conference, Cal has the advantage of securing an automatic bid to the tournament’s quarterfinals. Its scheduled opponent, however, is arguably one of the most dangerous teams in the field.

Despite a 4-3 loss to the Bears two weeks ago, the Cougars possess a 20-6 overall record and one of the top freshman in the country in German-native Michaela Bayerlova. In her first season in Pullman, Bayerlova is 26-3 in singles play, with 21 of her wins coming during dual match play on court No. 1.

The Bears counter with the leadership and experience of Hauger, whose already impressive tenure with Cal includes clinching a national championship match during her freshman year. Heading into this spring’s tournament, Hauger and fellow junior Maria Smith are the only nonfreshmen expected to play in the team’s singles lineup.

Even with a young roster, Augustus is optimistic that the Bears have a shot at playing in Saturday’s final. Last April, Cal fell to Stanford in the championship match, but the potential for revenge is on the line.

“It’s postseason time, and now it’s time to step it up a notch, and that’s only going to help us going into the NCAA tournament too,” Augustus said.

Josh Yuen is an assistant sports editor. Contact him at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @joshcal2020