Home debuts can sometimes allow a team to get an easy win early in the year in front of its own fans. For Cal women’s tennis, win or lose, nothing will come easy this weekend.
The No. 19 Bears will have their home opener at Hellman Tennis Complex, beginning Friday and ending Sunday. Cal (4-1) will enter battle with No. 6 Vanderbilt (4-2), No. 5 UCLA (5-1) and No. 17 USC (4-1) in the three-day span.
On Wednesday, just before what will mark one of its toughest stretches on the season, Cal learned that it would be in the top 25, its first appearance in the national rankings this spring. The news came after the Bears were able to stun the then-No. 7 Pepperdine Waves in a 4-3 upset victory.
Cal senior and co-captain Olivia Hauger jumped another eight spots in the poll to No. 20, while sophomores Julia Rosenqvist and Anna Bright landed at No. 45 and No. 69, respectively. Rosenqvist was awarded her second career Pac-12 Player of the Week distinction after her outstanding performance in Malibu, clinching the upset for Cal.
The Bears can make even more leaps with a couple of wins this weekend against elite competition.
The Commodores boast four top-50 singles players, including senior Fernanda Contreras (No. 3) and junior Christina Rosca (No. 9). Rosca fought her way to last year’s ITA Fall National Championships’ singles semifinals. Cal will hold the advantage in doubles, however, as Bright and sophomore Jasie Dunk (No. 23) are ranked higher than any Vanderbilt pair.
Official conference matchups require the utmost focus and preparation to succeed, but the unofficial ones that await the Bears are just as significant to a team’s growth and development. On Saturday afternoon, Cal will be tasked with handling UCLA and Elysia Bolton (No. 11). The star freshman won her first Pac-12 Player of the Week three weeks ago.
“We always like to play the best teams that we can play,” said Cal head coach Amanda Augustus about the upcoming challenges. “We play a schedule that allows us to be in the top five of the country. “Sunday afternoon’s match is no exception; the Trojans are ranked two spots ahead of the Bears and roster freshman Salma Ewing (No. 34), the top recruit in 2018’s graduating class.
Although Cal’s national standing this season has changed in the last couple of weeks because of its impressive road upsets, its goal in the early parts of the schedule remains similar. Growth is the name of the game for these Bears.
“You learn each match you play,” Augustus said. “I think this group is working hard every day and enjoys competing with each other.”
That hard work has thus far translated into wins and team success — keeping that going this weekend in Berkeley, however, will require much more than just home-court advantage.
Dev Navani covers women’s tennis. Contact him at [email protected].