Cal women’s tennis has promising start to season at ITA Kick-Off Weekend

Tennis player hits ball.
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Successful road trips are must-haves for any team aspiring to have a strong season. Cal women’s tennis (2-1) is now well on its way to that mark after rounding out its first trip of the year with two wins.

It culminated this weekend in Columbia, South Carolina for the annual ITA Kick-Off Weekend, where the Bears were seeded last in a four-team bracket.

Cal lost 4-1 to No. 14 South Carolina in Saturday’s match but rebounded a day later against Pac-12 foe Arizona State with its own commanding 4-1 victory.

Senior Olivia Hauger (No. 35) clinched the match for the Bears for the second time in three games.

Although Cal failed to qualify for the ITA Indoors two weeks from now, significant progress was shown in South Carolina territory. The Bears came into Columbia as clear underdogs in their bracket and put up an admirable fight against the Gamecocks.

Cal sophomore Julia Rosenqvist (No. 47) had one of her best days against South Carolina’s 12th-ranked Ingrid Gamarra Martins on the first court, completing an upset with a score of 7-5, 6-1.

On the second court, Hauger began what could have been her second straight victory against a higher-ranked opponent, but her match against No. 25 Paige Cline went unfinished at 7-5, 2-1.

Doubles play remains an issue for Cal, as the Bears have surrendered the point in all three of their dual-match games.

The No. 17 sophomore duo of Anna Bright and Jasie Dunk has yet to get a win playing first in doubles for the Bears. This season marks the first time Bright and Dunk have shared doubles court time together consistently. Growing pains are expected in any team sport, and Bright’s strong career doubles record (27-12) suggests that success for these two is on the near horizon.

The pair of sophomore Hana Mraz and junior Katerina Stloukalova won both of its matches with ease in Columbia, a lone bright spot for the Bears in doubles.

Most of Cal’s points were lost in the back of the lineup against South Carolina, as the Bears were 0-3 on courts three through six with Smith’s game on court five unfinished.

The emphasis on Saturday night was clearly on the energy in singles. Cal took the first set on four of six courts on Sunday morning.

Against the Sun Devils, the Bears won on courts five (Maria Smith) and six (Mraz), the first time they had achieved that this season on the same day.

Hauger escaped the first three matches as the only Cal player without a loss in singles, a strong start as one of the two seniors in a sophomore-heavy squad.

As such, Hauger will play an important role for the Bears this year and could potentially provide guidance in the doubles department. In the spring 2018 season, she led the team with 23 doubles victories.

Even still, Cal will not be lacking leaders. Rosenqvist and Bright are no strangers to playing well on the top singles courts — they frequently accompanied Hauger on the top three courts in some order last spring. Both players received conference recognition that year as well (Rosenqvist on the first team, Bright on the second).

Upsets such as Hauger’s in Gainesville against Florida and Rosenqvist’s in Columbia can sustain teams for weeks, and the Bears will need some of that energy moving forward.

Another opportunity for an upset will come on the road against No. 7 Pepperdine on Friday, with an easier match scheduled for Saturday against San Diego State.

The last time Cal defeated Pepperdine was in March 2016 in the midst of the team’s 23-2 season in which they reached the final four in the NCAAs.

Regardless of the win-loss result, the Bears continue to have spots of brilliance setting them up well for conference play later in the year.

Dev Navani covers women’s tennis. Contact him at [email protected].