Back on fresh legs, Cal looks to upset rivals on road trip

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Sunny beaches and palm trees won’t bother the Bears when they travel down south to take on No. 7 ranked UCLA on Friday and No. 15 ranked Pepperdine on Saturday. The blue and gold fell in the Intercollegiate Tennis Association’s rankings after failing to qualify for the ITA Division I National Women’s Team Indoor Championship last month, going from No. 21 to No. 45 in the ITA’s team rankings.

Despite losing to Virginia in the opening match of the ITA Kick-Off Weekend, the Bears managed to bounce back against Kansas. Led by Haley Giavara and Julia Rosenqvist, the blue and gold came back from a 3-1 deficit as freshman Valentina Ivanov clinched the first win for Cal. The three players are all currently ranked in the ITA’s top 100, with Giavara at No. 13, Ivanov at No. 28 and Rosenqvist at No. 50.

Giavara is having a particularly strong season in her first year as a Bear in both singles and doubles, going 13-6 and 9-6 throughout the season, respectively. Highlights from earlier in the season include three wins over North Carolina’s Alexa Graham, Duke’s Kelly Chen and Stanford’s Michaela Gordon, all players ranked in the top 10, reinforcing Giavara’s status as a force on the court. Her pairing with junior Anna Bright makes Cal’s only duo currently ranked by the ITA, sitting at No. 25 after winning six out of 10 matches thus far.

UCLA started off 2020 ranked No. 4 by the ITA and went 7-0 to start the winter, posting perfect victories at home over Minnesota, Loyola Marymount, Saint Mary’s and UC Santa Barbara. Led by No. 8 Abbey Forbes, No. 12 Elysia Bolton, and No. 19 Jada Hart, the Bruins went on to sweep Illinois, Florida State and Stanford in the ITA Division I National Women’s Team Indoor Championship bracket before getting swept themselves by North Carolina in the final round. The fearsome partnership of Bolton and Hart is also the top-ranked duo in the nation after they secured the doubles title last year at the ITA National Fall Championships.

Pepperdine has had a less stellar start to the winter period of the season, going 3-2 before a road trip to Oklahoma, where the Waves beat the unranked Sooners before losing the following day against the Cowboys. Led by senior and ITA singles No. 2 ranked Ashley Lahey, the Waves knocked Cal out of the NCAA tournament last year, and like UCLA, they have yet to be defeated at home, adding another factor of difficulty to the Bears’ approaching road trip.

Meanwhile, Ivanov had a busy international start to the month as her native New Zealand team advanced to the group stage of the Federation Cup. Ivanov, the youngest member of the team by more than four years, proved instrumental to the national team’s success, defeating Shaira Hope Rivera in the opening match as New Zealand trounced the Philippines 2-1. Ivanov is still undefeated in international play this year, capping off New Zealand’s 3-0 sweeps over Pakistan, Singapore and Mongolia with a flawless 6-0, 6-0 win over Mongolia’s Bolor Enkhbayar.

Cal fans hope to see their team match Ivanov’s level of success as the Bears look to end two perfect home records over the weekend.

Teddy Park covers women’s tennis. Contact him at [email protected].