Cal’s close calls: Bears best USC, Pepperdine, look ahead at ASU, Arizona

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Meghnath Dey/Staff

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Life can be full of close calls. And in these moments, things may not go your way. To come out on top, it’s important to pull yourself together.

That is exactly what No. 14 Cal women’s tennis did against No. 17 USC and No. 5 Pepperdine.

The Bears played USC on Saturday and Pepperdine on Tuesday to improve their spring record to 11-5. Against both, the score was 4-3 — two narrow victories for the blue and gold.

A player that stood out over the two matches was Danish sophomore Hannah Viller Moeller. She clinched the important Pac-12 duel Saturday in straight sets, managing to overcome her opponent to add another win onto Cal’s currently unbroken conference streak.

On, Tuesday, the sophomore played another important match. Though Pepperdine is a nonconference opponent, Cal played the Waves for a third time. Having beaten them at their then-No.2 status earlier in the season, and then falling to them at indoor nationals, the two teams have plenty of history.

Playing seasoned athlete Victoria Flores, Viller Moeller managed to pull ahead after being down in the first-set tiebreak.

“She fought through, that was tough — we’ve played her many times, and she’s such a tough competitor,” said Cal head coach Amanda Augustus about Viller Moeller’s match and opponent. “She was down in that tiebreak, worked her way through and then really stayed focused on that second set.”

Saturday proved to be a close call for the Bears, as they faced some highly ranked players. The doubles started the team off well. With two strong wins from Erin Richardson and Julia Rosenqvist, as well as freshmen phenoms Jessica Alsola and Katja Wiersholm on court one, the Bears carried momentum into the singles.

Courts one and two proved to be battlegrounds, on which the Bears were unable to hold their ground against the Trojans. On court one, No. 101 Haley Giavara lost out against No. 41 Salma Ewing. On two, USC’s No. 6 Eryn Cayetano beat out No. 62 Alsola in a three-set duel. Richardson, too, played out a three-set thriller, winning the first set but falling in the next two to her Trojan opponent.

The real close-call battles, however, came on Tuesday.

Going into its third faceoff against Pepperdine, a notoriously challenging SoCal rival, Cal had to channel all of its efforts. The doubles, once again, started the Bears off strong. In recent weeks, the coaching team has been putting more work into the doubles; Augustus believes it is imperative to start off strong and carry the momentum forwards.

Three Bears ended up playing three-set thrillers. The stands above courts two, three and four were bursting with friends, family and supporters as the Bears entered hour three of play.

Alsola, on court two, played No. 17 Lisa Zaar, displaying a very tactical game and exceptional sportsmanship. Not letting herself be bested, the freshman was down in the first set, but managed to turn it around. With a final score of 3-6, 6-1, 6-3, this was an important top-ranked win for Alsola.

“(Alsola) played tactically smart, but the girl made adjustments, so it was a very back-and-forth match,” Augustus said. “Jess lost a close one against USC, and now for her to bounce back and have such a great win, especially with a little bit of a rough first set … I’m super proud of her.”

Rosenqvist’s match also took a turn after the first set, but in a different direction. The senior had a sizable lead over her opponent, No. 82 Savannah Broadus. After taking the first set 6-2, the senior trailed in the second set which ended up in a tiebreak loss. Nevertheless, she ended up coming out on top, with a final score of 6-2, 6-7(5), 6-4.

“I kept on trying to just do my thing and just to stay on top of her, and then, you know, she came back,” Rosenqvist said, “I maybe left my foot off the gas a little bit on the most important points, but it feels like all of that work paid off.”

Then, all eyes were on the last match: No. 122 Wiersholm playing No. 79 Janice Tjen. Fresh off a Pac-12 Player of the Week award for her performance against USC, the freshman was yet to lose a singles match for the Bears. Much to her dismay, she was unable to keep up her streak, losing out to her opponent 4-6, 7-5, 7-5. However, the game play was a back and forth affair that could have gone either way.

Overall, the matches were close calls where Cal managed to come out on top. Adding both a conference and a nonconference win onto its record, the team is looking strong as it heads toward the Pac-12 championships and NCAAs.

The next hoops to jump through will be away from home. Playing No. 32 Arizona State on Friday and No. 48 Arizona on Saturday, the Bears will be looking to mark their territory against these Pac-12 rivals.

“We have to be ready because Arizona is very good at their place— I mean, they’re very good usually, period,” Augustus said. “We have to be ready to go.”

It will certainly be worth keeping an eye on Cal’s freshmen Alsola and Wiersholm. Two of the three newest Bears, they have been showing top-class performances over the past few weeks. Both in doubles and singles, it will be interesting to watch them develop as the season closes out.

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