Consistent Cal defeats USC, defeated by UCLA

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It was a week of both rain and sunshine in Berkeley, literally and figuratively.

Conference play kicked off, and Cal had quite a busy schedule. The Bears played back-to-back matches this weekend against two teams from Los Angeles, No. 2 UCLA and No. 37 USC. On Friday, the No. 21 Bears took a tough 3-4 loss against the Bruins in a game that went down to the wire. The following day, however, the team bounced back strong in a 6-1 victory against the Trojans. The blue and gold now hold a 3-4 (1-1) record overall.

Cal’s Friday loss was truly a tight battle that was decided when No. 113 Sasha Vagramov bested Jessica Zeynel in a tiebreaker. Compared to the 7-0 loss against the Bruins on Feb. 21, the outcome of Friday’s match showed an improvement in performance for several Bears.

Starting from the doubles match, Cal was fighting until the very end. The doubles point was finally decided when Abi Altick and Annette Goulak defeated Anna Bright and Jessica Zeynel (6-4). The scores may not show it, but the Bears were actually close to pushing the match to a tiebreaker, as Bright and Zeynel made it through several match points.

Bright was especially exceptional at the net, as she made several aggressive plays that kept the blue and gold in the game. They won a few clutch points off of long rallies and the momentum slowly started to lean toward the Bears at the end of the game, but Altick and Goulak came back strong to close out the set. The lack of a doubles point ultimately came back to bite the Bears, as they only lost to UCLA by one point.

The blue and gold shined this week in their resilience, and that was most notable in the singles matches. Once again, it was Cal’s freshmen players who remained consistent in their performances, as the first-year players were responsible for all three of the team’s singles points against the Bruins.

Erin Richardson put the Bears on the scoreboard first, finishing her game in a timely fashion against Goulak 6-2, 6-2. No. 15 Haley Giavara followed soon after, adding another upset to her list as she finished strong in a tiebreaker against No. 9 Elysia Bolton. The longest match happened on court three, as No. 34 Valentina Ivanov was unable to find her rhythm in the first set against No. 17 Jada Hart. Her consistency, however, came through in the next two sets, and the game ended 2-6, 6-4, 6-4.

“It embraces what this team is about. We can get every single ball back, and that is what we’ve been doing in practice this last week,” Zeynel said. “I think everyone put up a really good fight today, and that is why the score is so close.”

Indeed, the mentality of never giving up could be seen across all the courts — and it carried over into the next day, when the Bears faced the Trojans. Cal won many of its points by extending the play as long as possible, ultimately increasing the chances of both forced and unforced errors from its opponents.

Not only did they take the doubles point this time around, but the team also excelled in singles as they overwhelmed their opponents. Zeynel was the one to clinch the match this time as she breezed by Estella Jaeger 6-3, 6-4. Likewise, Richardson was a tour de force in her victory, making this her third-straight win since her return to the singles lineup.

The same thing can be said about Cal women’s tennis in general. Pac-12 play has barely started and the team has already shown marked improvement.

On Saturday, the Bears will be up against the Oregon Ducks, and fans are hoping to see them develop further.

Cal squares off against Oregon on Saturday at 12 p.m. at Hellman Tennis Complex.

Alex Lin writes covers women’s tennis. Contact him at [email protected].