The relationship between Cal and UCLA can aptly be thought of as one between an older and younger sibling, respectively. UCLA was founded 51 years after UC Berkeley as the second member of the UC family and adopted many similar traits, from school colors to its mascot. Yet, there comes a time in every sibling relationship when the younger tries to challenge the authority of the older.
Indeed, UCLA’s ever-growing status as an athletic powerhouse and recent claims that it’s taken UC Berkeley’s spot as the No. 1 public university are just a few examples of that. But on Saturday, the then-No. 17 Cal women’s tennis team refused to give in to a changing of the guard, earning a gutsy 4-3 win over the No. 3 Bruins at the Hellman Tennis Complex.
Although the Bears had come up short in their previous eight encounters with the Bruins, including a 4-0 loss during the ITA Kickoff Weekend last month, Cal’s rearranged doubles lineup and three-match win streak heading into the contest gave the team hope that UCLA would not have its way on this occasion.
“That first match (against UCLA this season) was very early,” said Cal women’s tennis head coach Amanda Augustus. “Now that we’re in the swing of the spring season and playing matches consistently, we’re more into the rhythm of things and gel more as a team.”
Sophomores Haley Giavara and Valentina Ivanov set the tone for a Bears upset with a 6-4 win over the Bruins’ Elysia Bolton and Jada Hart, the No. 1 doubles pair in the nation. After UCLA equalized with a win in the second doubles contest, all attention turned to the third court, where Cal’s Julia Rosenqvist and Erin Richardson survived a 2-5 deficit and match points against Abi Altick and Taylor Johnson to clinch the doubles point for the Bears.
The doubles point can often seem insignificant in the larger context of collegiate tennis matches, but the blue and gold’s jubilant reaction signaled that they knew how crucial the win was to their efforts to thwart their southern rivals.
“We went into our singles way more confident with the doubles point win,” said Ivanov, whose pivotal performance earned the sophomore her first Pac-12 Player of the Week honor. “You can play a bit more free knowing you got that 1 point.”
Even with this boost of confidence for Cal, UCLA’s singles lineup proved to be a tough wall to scale. While Ivanov and Hannah Viller Moeller added to the Bears’ tally with wins in singles, the Bruins tied the match at 3 points apiece with convincing performances in the first, second and sixth lines. With the outcome of the overall match resting on her shoulders, Cal freshman Jada Bui clawed out a 6-3 third-set victory over Altick, a senior. The result clinched a 4-3 team win for the Bears. Ironically, Bui’s defeat of the older Altick — in what was the first singles match of her young collegiate career — reestablished Cal’s senior authority.
The Bears extended their winning streak and unblemished home record Sunday, handily defeating UC Santa Barbara 6-1. Though the Gauchos competed hard in the upper singles lines, Cal’s depth proved to be too much for UCSB, and the Bears dropped only five games altogether across the fourth, fifth and sixth singles matches. The win stretched the Bears’ record to 6-1.
Cal will have a week off from matches before facing Colorado in Boulder on March 5 and Utah in Salt Lake City on March 7. The Bears’ match against No. 2 Texas, originally scheduled for Sunday, was canceled due to scheduling conflicts on the Longhorns’ end in light of a polar vortex that shook the region. The match will not be rescheduled this season.
Though the blue and gold haven’t yet hit the season’s midway point, it’s hard to avoid speculating about what they’re capable of accomplishing this year. After their two wins over the weekend, they jumped to No. 12 in the ITA national rankings. Nonetheless, it’s clear they intend to reach greater heights.
“One of our goals always is to win the NCAA team championship and win individual singles and doubles championships,” Augustus said. “That’s what we’ll build for.”
Milad Shafaie covers women’s tennis. Contact him at [email protected].