No. 19 Cal handles Oregon 5-2 in first match of conference play

Matthew Gibson/Staff

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As a ranked team, it can be easy to overlook a weaker opponent and stumble into an upset loss in conference play. The Bears, however, did not have this problem in Oregon on Friday afternoon.

No. 19 Cal women’s tennis (6-3, 1-0) took care of business in Eugene, beating Oregon (6-6, 0-1) 5-2 to secure a conference victory in its Pac-12 opener. The Bears brought the energy early, winning the first sets in five of the six singles matches.

This came after Cal was not able to complete last weekend’s match against UC Santa Barbara because of multiple rain delays.

“We were able to get enough tennis (against UCSB) so that it wasn’t like we didn’t play at all,” said Cal head coach Amanda Augustus. “It didn’t affect our preparation too much — we’ve been used to working around the rain for a quite a while.”

Cal senior and co-captain Olivia Hauger (No. 24) was rested this weekend and did not play, so multiple Bears had to step up in the rotation. Junior Alexis Nelson quickly defeated her opponent, Oregon’s Taryn Fujimori, on court six singles, winning 6-2, 6-1. It was the first singles match to finish on the afternoon and was also Nelson’s first match and win in singles play this spring.

In Hauger’s absence, junior Katerina Stloukalova (No. 115) moved up to court two for singles and also won in two sets, 6-4, 6-1.

“She’s been playing really well and was ready for the opportunity,” Augustus said. “We’re pretty confident that our players can play at multiple positions.”

Sophomore Julia Rosenqvist (No. 25) lost a back-and-forth battle with a score of 5-7, 6-4, 1-0 (10-8) against Oregon’s Shweta Sangwan (No. 87) on court one after the match had already been clinched by Stloukalova.

“I thought Julia played quite well,” Augustus said after the match, expressing confidence in her player.

Fellow sophomore Anna Bright (No. 74) defeated Oregon’s Rifanty Kahfiani to break a two-match losing spell.

Cal won its third doubles point in a row amid the lineup movement. Stloukalova and senior Maria Smith played together for the first time this spring, clinching the doubles point for the Bears.

“I think we’re getting better at competing together as a team,” Augustus said. “It takes playing through quite a few matches to get the hang of it, and I think they’re really getting that.”

The first conference win is a significant milestone for a Cal team that has legitimate talent and experience pushing elite teams to the brink. The Bears began the season unranked but have blossomed into a unit capable of upsetting anyone on any given day.

Despite there being no freshmen on the team, Cal rosters a relatively young group of players.

“I think them learning how to play together takes experience and practice, and I think they’re doing a very good job,” Augustus said of the team’s development so far. “Some of the first sets (against Oregon) were a little closer than we would have liked, but we closed them out anyway, and that’s what shows the growth to me.”

Cal will complete its second and third conference matches against Arizona and Arizona State, both currently unranked opponents, at home next weekend.

The Bears should be able to make it through most of March with an unbeaten conference record. After that, the wins will come much tougher, with elite Pac-12 competition such as No. 14 USC, No. 6 UCLA and No. 7 Washington on the schedule. Cal must maintain a similar approach to that of the Oregon match, as overlooking the Arizona teams at home could hurt its position in the rankings and Cal’s development as a top-tier squad.

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