Trio of Bears qualify for NCAA tournament, team misses out on at-large bid

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Last season, the Cal women’s tennis team carried a healthy No. 13 ranking into the NCAA tournament, in which the Bears advanced to the round of 16. On the individual side of business, then-senior Maegan Manasse and then-junior Karla Popovic represented Cal in the singles bracket, in which Popovic collected a pair of wins to reach the quarterfinals.

Twelve months later, the Bears are in an unfamiliar — and perhaps uncomfortable — position: on the outside looking in.

While the team will watch as freshman Anna Bright, junior Olivia Hauger and freshman Julia Rosenqvist compete in the singles competition held at Wake Forest from May 23-28, Cal (11-9, 6-4) was left out of this spring’s big dance entirely.

Last week, Washington State and Cal persisted through a Pac-12 quarterfinal match that lasted more than five hours but concluded with a Cougar win that ultimately sealed the deal for the Bears’ season.

As a squad with championship ambitions throughout autumn and into spring, this outcome is a difficult setback for a rebuilding program. Fans are left to speculate as to the criteria that this year’s NCAA committee valued most, but it’s safe to say that the Bears’ stellar singles play was often overshadowed by inconsistent doubles play throughout the past few weeks.

Despite the tough luck down the stretch, there’s little for the Bears to hang their heads about. In a conference that features some of the top collegiate talent in the country, Cal’s lineup was experiencing its first full season together, compounded by the addition of an accomplished freshman class.

Add on the fact that Popovic — an All-American last season — was sidelined this spring, and credit is due to the entire Bears’ roster and coaching staff for battling toward a top-four finish in the Pac-12.

Rosenqvist, a Sweden native who joined the Bears in January, made her mark early and often on her way to a No. 38 singles ranking, seizing control of the court one spotlight and posting a 13-8 overall singles record.

Bright, a fellow freshman whose claim to fame began early during fall tournaments, had arguably the best season of any player in the lineup. The Florida native will carry a 34-9 overall singles record into play later this month, accentuated by a 22-4 showing in tournaments. Bright ended the regular season ranked No. 42.

Finally, Hauger will seek to build on her illustrious collegiate career once more in the postseason. Her 23-7 mark in singles and No. 47 ranking speak for themselves, but it was her veteran presence along with fellow junior Maria Smith that undoubtedly fueled the growth of the team’s budding freshman core. With plenty to look forward to in her senior season, Hauger’s combination of experience and talent should be reflected in her results later this month.

None of Cal’s doubles pairings qualified for the doubles bracket also taking place later this month. With the young team set for a longer offseason than usual, the focus remains on Rosenqvist, Bright and Hauger as they take aim at individual accolades.

Josh Yuen covers women’s tennis. Contact him at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @joshcal2020