As this tennis season creeps toward its end, the urgency to win only grows larger and larger. Apparently, No. 15 USC felt it more, as No. 16 Cal women’s tennis could not take more than a point from its Los Angeles counterpart in its first Pac-12 tournament match Thursday, losing 4-1.
Cal met USC for the third time this year in this conference playoff match and lost for the second time. Despite having higher-ranked singles and doubles players than the Trojans, this did not translate into winning play for the Bears.
The day began with the loss of a highly contested doubles point. Cal split sets on courts one and three, and the No. 40 pairing of Anna Bright and Jasie Dunk lost in a tiebreaker on court two against USC’s unranked pair of Becca Weissman and Danielle Willson. Doubles play has proved to be extremely important for Cal, as the Bears are 2-7 this year when beginning singles play down one point to zero.
“The format, with the set so short, you have to take every chance you can get, and I think we missed a couple returns in that court two match,” said Cal head coach Amanda Augustus of the tight doubles match. “We needed to be a little more solid with our returns because once we got into the points, we were fine.”
Cal’s fortunes did not change going into singles play. The Trojans only had one loss all season when winning the doubles point, so for them, there was no looking back.
“That doubles point ended up being pretty critical, and I think we gave USC quite a lot of confidence after that,” Augustus said. “They played Stanford (on Friday), didn’t get the doubles point, and weren’t quite the same (for the rest of the match).”
USC went on to get swept by Stanford in the Pac-12 semifinals.
The Bears came out of the gates slowly, as No. 74 Bright was the only player to win her first set in the beginning of singles play. Both No. 47 Olivia Hauger and Katerina Stloukalova were defeated quickly in two sets, giving USC three total points.
Hauger, a senior, fell on court two to No. 105 Angela Kulikov by a score of 6-2, 6-0, a disappointing result that Cal should have been on the other side of. Meanwhile, Stloukalova was not able to defeat USC sophomore Ana Neffa for the second time this season. Neffa has won all three of her singles matches against Cal this spring — two against Stloukalova and one against Bright.
“I have to give credit to Olivia’s opponent (Anna Neffa). I think she played quite well, and she’s a very good player,” Augustus said of the singles upset. “I wouldn’t necessarily point to that match. We have six singles courts out there that could have swung the other way.”
Sophomore Hana Mraz fell on court six in two sets to give USC its fourth point and the victory. Each match on courts one and five went unfinished, with Cal’s No. 41 Julia Rosenqvist in the lead on one and Maria Smith trailing on five.
Cal will have one last opportunity to make some noise in the NCAA tournament beginning later on in the week.
“I’d rather this match (against USC) this week than in the NCAA tournament, and this tournament left us hungry to get back out there,” Augustus said. “I think we really can do some damage.”
The Bears did not qualify as one of the top 16 teams as determined by the NCAA, so they will not host either of the first two rounds of the tournament. Cal will play Long Beach State on Friday at Pepperdine, with a potential rematch with the Waves waiting for them in the round of 32.
Dev Navani covers women’s tennis. Contact him at [email protected]