We field hundreds of posts, messages and articles talking about a “fresh start” with the beginning of every new year. Sometimes, we even subscribe to the idea ourselves. In sports, especially in tennis, the “fresh start” takes on a special meaning: With the beginning of a new season, players see an opportunity to come back from old lows and reach new highs in their sport.
After a part of Cal women’s tennis had an unideal finish to the fall 2021 season — with doubles team Jessica Alsola and Erin Richardson out in the second round of the national fall championships — the team is now looking ahead at the spring 2022 season to come.
And what better way to start it than a trip to Hawaii?
Starting Jan. 6, the Bears will play in the Weinman Foundation Invitational in Honolulu, Hawaii. With almost the entire team playing, this will be a great way for it to kick the season off after spending its winter break away from training at Cal.
Head coach Amanda Augustus says she looks forward to getting going with the matches after the time off and knows the players have been working hard in their own time.
“For tennis, everyone knows you’ve gotta keep playing,” Augustus said.
Some other players are looking to start a winning streak in the season ahead, with Makenna Thiel and Hannah Viller Moeller both posting singles wins in their last matches of the year in the ASU Thunderbird Invitational in November.
The upcoming tournament will be an opportunity to try out some new doubles pairings. There was little opportunity for doubles practice over the break, which Augustus said might bring a challenge to the team’s gameplay this week.
However, it will also be the first chance to see a new player in action. Cal women’s tennis signed Katja Wiersholm, the nation’s fifth-best recruit, in November 2021. The 17-year-old had a successful last year, making the round of 16 in the US Open Junior Championships in September.
“She’s very, very experienced,” Augustus said. “We can definitely see her contributing on the court right away.”
The invitational will get the ball rolling, as only six days later the Bears will play on the blue and gold’s home turf in the Cal Winter Invite. Augustus said this will be a great opportunity to get some matches in while the team has more time before classes start.
In a time filled with new beginnings, Cal looks to set itself up for a good season. Last year, the team concluded its spring season with its first-ever Pac-12 tournament title. It is safe to assume the Bears have their eyes set on a repeat championship and a successful season full of wins.
For the first time in 74 days, Cal’s men’s tennis will be competing once more — this time in the Hawaii Invitational in Honolulu. The Bears head to Honolulu with one important change from last season: new director of men’s tennis Kris Kwinta, who has taken over for interim coach Amanda Augustus.
A former member of the Polish National Team, Kwinta has been an assistant coach in the Pac-12 since 2008. After stints in UCLA and USC, where he earned the ITA Southwest Region Assistant Coach of the Year Award in 2010 and 2014, Kwinta was hired as the director of men’s tennis to replace retiring head coach Peter Wright.
“I can’t imagine a better start than going to Hawaii,” Kwinta said when asked about his head coaching debut.
Kwinta plans to play every member of the roster and is particularly excited about Cal’s Michael Wright. The freshman returned to the team only two weeks ago after undergoing arthroscopic knee surgery, which forced him to sit out practice. Kwinta is confident that Wright is rejuvenated and in good shape heading into Honolulu. He is also excited to see English newcomer Derrick Chen make his debut for the Bears.
The last time the Bears saw action was the ITA Northwest Super Regional, where No. 12 seeded senior Yuta Kikuchi advanced to the semifinals before falling to eventual champion Stanford sophomore Arthur Fery. Kikuchi will look to build on his incredible run in the ITA Northwest Super Regional in Honolulu.
“He’s got the mindset to work hard everyday and play against the top players,” Kwinta said.
The Bears will be facing BYU and the University of Hawaii. The Cougars do not have any players ranked in the top 125 for singles or the top 60 for doubles. Meanwhile, the Rainbow Warriors are led by 11th-ranked junior Andre Ilagan. After finishing in the semifinals of the ITA All-American Championships in October, Ilagan is the highest-ranked player in the history of UH’s tennis program.
After such a long hiatus, the Bears must be chomping at the bit to return to the hard court. The invitational may not count for the Bears’ record, but it presents a major opportunity for them to showcase their talents and build towards the upcoming Pac-12 season.
“Everybody’s super excited about it — pumped, ready to go and fire on all cylinders for sure. And you can see these guys are putting in the work,” Kwinta said. “It’s a family atmosphere here. They have a great camaraderie and bring a lot of intensity to the court every day.”