No place like home: Host Cal wins ITA Kickoff Weekend, qualifies for indoor nationals

Photo of Cal Women's Tennis player serving
Sunny Shen/Senior Staff

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The crowd atmosphere in sports is one of its most valued aspects and something sports have so missed during the pandemic years.

And so, amid intermittent yelling of “Go Bears” from a sizable crowd and explosive cheering from the Hellman Tennis Complex’s stands, Cal women’s tennis breezed into the ITA National Women’s Team Indoor Championship. The Bears beat their opponent 4-0 for the second day in a row, with many athletes representing Cal in other sports cheering their fellow Bears on from the stands.

Cal hosted the ITA Kickoff Weekend, one of 15 across the country last week. Tensions were high: The winner was to secure a spot for the national indoor championship. The Bears played fourth-seed BYU on the first day and Vanderbilt, who beat San Diego, on the second, to carve the path to the championship they won for the first time in 2016.

Having beaten Pepperdine in their dual match a week earlier, the Bears had every reason to be confident coming into the weekend. Following its Pepperdine triumph –– and after going 2-0 so far this season –– the team’s national ranking moved from No. 9 to No. 4.

They had an especially successful doubles run compared to earlier weeks: This weekend earned the Bears their first doubles point of the season.

It seems as though head coach Amanda Augustus made a good choice switching the doubles teams around. It made sense to pair junior Erin Richardson and freshman Jessica Alsola, given their success in making the regional semifinals and nationals in the fall season. However, the team had been struggling early in the season.

Shuffling the pairs, Augustus paired Richardson with experienced senior Julia Rosenqvist, while Alsola played alongside freshman Katja Wiersholm.

“Katja (Wiersholm) just started, and Jess(ica Alsola) is new too, so it’s just a matter of seeing how they do in dual matches,” Augustus said. “We thought we’d give it a shot, and bringing back Julia (Rosenqvist), who’s very experienced, was the right mix.”

Against BYU, Richardson and Rosenqvist won confidently 6-1, and seasoned pair Haley Giavara and Valentina Ivanov clinched the doubles match 6-2. On Day 2 against Vanderbilt, the clinch came down to Alsola and Wiersholm, defeating Marcella Cruz and Yufei Long 6-4.

“I think that was mine and Erin’s best doubles match — it was really fun,” Roseqvist said. “We played our game; she did everything at the net; and it was great.”

In singles, too, Cal played very confidently. Wiersholm, the newest recruit ranked No. 5 in the nation for her class, stood out especially, playing stellar tennis on court five. With great coverage of the baseline and a good variety of shots, she confidently breezed past No. 96 Cruz of Vanderbilt without losing a single game –– 6-0, 6-0 –– to bring Cal the first singles win of Day 2.

On court three, Rosenqvist had a bit of a longer battle against Vanderbilt’s Holly Staff. Though clinching the match for Cal in the end, the senior had a rocky start, only winning the first set 7-6(3) before going on to finish it out 6-2.

“I was frustrated because I’ve been playing very aggressively in my earlier matches,” Rosenqvist said. “I was kind of waiting a little bit, anticipating what she was going to do instead of bringing it to her. I think I did that better in the second set.”

Now, Cal has to get ready to show off its tennis at indoor nationals, held from Feb. 11-14 in Madison, Wisconsin, after playing Michigan on Feb. 8. Considering its level so far this season, the team should look to have a good run.

Though they will be unable to rely on the support from their home crowd, the Bears can use their momentum from early in the season to go deep.

Maria Kholodova covers women’s tennis. Contact her at [email protected].