The start of a season can be compared to learning to ride a bicycle. At first it might feel wobbly, unsteady and uncertain. Getting into the swing of it is hard, but once you get going fast enough, it’s easy.
The blue and gold women’s tennis program is rapidly approaching the start of its 2021 season. It will make its debut Friday, Sept. 24, in the Cal Fall Invitational, held at Berkeley’s Hellman Tennis Complex. Heading into the tournament, the team boasts a healthy balance of fresh talent and seasoned performers.
Strong juniors on Cal’s roster include Haley Giavara and Valentina Ivanov. Both were named to the ITA All-American Championships, and Giavara earned a No.17 in the ITA Singles Preseason Ranking.
Cal tennis fans might also have high hopes for Julia Rosenqvist, a senior from Onsala, Sweden. In spring 2021, she produced six victories, including Cal’s first Pac-12 tournament championship. Her passion for the sport extends beyond the court: She volunteers with a tennis mentorship program, tutoring and coaching middle and high school students in Berkeley.
While juniors and seniors have the advantage of experience, Hannah Viller Moeller, a sophomore from Copenhagen, Denmark, is another player to watch this season. This summer, she captured the singles title and the mixed doubles crown at the Danish Championships held at the Roedovre Tennis Club. While her powerful trajectory at Cal was interrupted by COVID-19 playing restrictions, Cal fans will be waiting to see if she can pick up the racket where she left off.
While Giavara, Ivanov, Rosenqvist and Viller Moeller will likely enter the tournament without any kinks in their chains, several new players are still learning to ride without training wheels. Regardless of their inexperience with college-level matchups, these young Bears seem poised to kick off their breakout season.
One of Cal’s prized new recruits is freshman Jessica Alsola. She is ranked No.7 in the ITA Newcomers poll after reaching the singles final of the recent Olympic Club Wildcard Challenge in San Francisco.
Another talented addition to the roster is freshman Makenna Thiel, who grew up locally in Piedmont, California. She was the winner of the Northern California Junior Sectional singles championship in 2019. When the COVID-19 pandemic began, she took her junior year of high school off to study online and compete in competitive tennis tournaments. Division I talent runs in the family — her mom competed on the swim and dive team for Cal, and her sister competed at Harvard for tennis.
As the Bears head into the weekend, they’ll need to strike a balance between wisdom and eagerness, experience and enthusiasm. The tournament spans three days and will feature competition from across the state. The Bears — both seasoned players and freshmen — should have plenty of opportunities to get their gears in check before heading into conference play.
Sarah Siegel is a deputy sports editor. Contact her at [email protected].