Cal upsets top-seeded UCLA to earn its first Pac-12 trophy

Photo of Julia Rosenqvist of Cal Women's Tennis screaming in celebration at the Pac-12 championships
Pac-12 Conference/Courtesy

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Throughout the course of this unprecedented season, Cal women’s tennis head coach Amanda Augustus has stressed the importance of adaptability to her team. Her message was especially relevant at the Pac-12 tournament last weekend, where the Bears faced numerous teams they had struggled to beat in the regular season and dealt with a three-and-a-half-hour rain delay prior to the championship match. But once the rain cleared on the championship day, Cal’s resiliency quite literally led it to the treasure beneath the rainbow, as the blue and gold upset top-seeded UCLA 4-2 to hoist the program’s first-ever Pac-12 tournament trophy.

The Bears’ poise was evident throughout the tournament. After defeating Oregon 4-1 in its opening match, Cal faced second-seeded Stanford in the semi-finals. Having come so close to beating the Cardinal just over a week earlier, the Bears knew they needed to swing at least one more individual match in their favor this time around. The blue and gold accomplished this in the early stages of the match when Anna Bright and Hannah Viller Moeller defeated Stanford’s Emily Arbuthnott and Angelica Blake to the tune of 6-2, after having lost 3-6 to the same duo in their previous encounter. That win, alongside Haley Giavara and Valentina Ivanov’s victory on the first court, sent Cal into singles play with the doubles point under its belt.

The Bears continued to surprise the Cardinal with their elevated play in singles. Giavara, who has struggled to find her groove at points this season, handed then-No. 39 Michaela Gordon an efficient 6-2, 6-3 defeat. Additional victories from Bright and Jada Bui clinched the match for the blue and gold, marking the first time that Stanford has failed to win the Pac-12 tournament since its inception in 2017.

With the win over its Bay Area rival, Cal entered the final stage of the tournament playing at a high level. Yet a victory over a top-seeded UCLA squad that was riding an 11-match win streak would require further adjustments and inspired play from Augustus’ team. It was no doubt a tall task, especially considering the Bruins wiped the Bears 7-0 earlier this month.

This became even more clear after Cal dropped the doubles point with losses on the first and third courts. Given the role securing the doubles point played in their lone victory over UCLA in February, the result complicated matters for the Bears as they headed into singles play.

“I thought we were playing well (after doubles),” Augustus said. “I wanted them to leave it all out there on the court (in singles).”

With its back against the wall, Cal strung together arguably its best singles performance of the season. First, Giavara executed her attacking brand of tennis to near perfection against then-No. 8 Abigail Forbes, handing Forbes just her second loss this season. Bright and Viller Moeller each followed with dominant performances of their own, helping the Bears surge into a 3-2 lead.

After Bui fell to the Bruins’ Vivian Wolff, Cal’s prospects depended on a win from either Ivanov or senior Julia Rosenqvist, who were each entrenched in third sets on the second and third courts, respectively. In her final Pac-12 tournament, Rosenqvist earned the Bears the championship with a 6-1 third-set decision over UCLA’s Elysia Bolton.

“We’ve always had the potential to win these big matches,” Rosenqvist said. “Today we pulled it off, and I couldn’t be more proud of the team.”

The title guarantees Cal an automatic berth to the NCAA tournament. Given what the Bears were able to pull off in winning the conference for the first time since 2014, fans ought to be excited about what the team might accomplish next.

Milad Shafaie covers women’s tennis. Contact him at [email protected].