Game, set, match: Cal out in semifinals of Pac-12 championship

Photo of a girl playing tennis.
Gabriel Nuer/Staff

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The Cal women’s tennis season is winding down. For many Cal teams, that often means Pac-12 championships are just around the corner. As the Bears embarked on a trip to Ojai, where the tournament has been held for many decades, they prepared to capture one of the ultimate titles of the season.

Going in as defending champions, the team certainly faced a lot of pressure. Unfortunately for the Bears, they weren’t able to repeat their successes again this year. Beating Utah in their first match 4-0, they couldn’t bypass Arizona State and fell 3-4 in the semifinals. The loss was bittersweet, as ASU remained the only team the Bears lost to in the conference this season after going 8-1.

Of course, the team already had an important win under its belt: In April, it captured the regular season Pac-12 championship after a long-fought battle against Stanford in the Big Slam.

The match against Utah posed a stark parallel to Arizona State. While the first was a breeze, the second seemed much closer.

“It was a close match last time, it was a close match this time. It came down to 6-4 in the third (set), so it was anyone’s match,” said Cal head coach Amanda Augustus. “We’ve won a ton of matches, I don’t want this to take away from everything — we’re in the top 10 in the country, this is one match.”

Against Utah in the quarterfinal — first-seeded Cal got a bye in the first round — Cal clinched the doubles point early on and continued the momentum, going on to win all of its singles matches.

In the semifinals against Arizona State, the doubles also started off strong. Cal juniors Haley Giavara and Valentina Ivanov clinched a victory on court one after a tiebreak, winning out 7-6(3). In singles, Cal lost the first two matches, making the score 2-1 to the Sun Devils. Then, Cal’s newest freshman Katja Wiersholm and senior Julia Rosenqvist won their matches narrowly on courts three and four, respectively.

Playing one of three three-setters of the day, Rosenqvist started off confident in the first set but conceded more and more unforced errors in the second.

“Jankowski is a very good opponent. All respect to her, she fights all the way all the time,” Rosenqvist said, “First set I had a really good strategy, and I knew I executed it great, and then I got a little too confident with it and started making unforced errors.”

Becoming more disciplined with her shots, the senior beat out her Arizona opponent to lift the blue and gold up 3-2. Two of the Bears, however, went on to lose their matches after long three-set battles. It is tough, Rosenqvist said, to accept that the team has lost even when you win individually.

Freshman Jessica Alsola was beaten in the third set after losing the first 3-6 but taking the second 6-2. Hannah Viller Moeller was the last Bear left standing as she battled for Cal’s place in the final. Losing the last set 6-4 — the smallest winning margin for a set without a tiebreak — it was a very close loss.

“I told all the girls after the game — we’re all super disappointed and sad about the loss — but I told them: We have a great team, and I believe in every one of them and I just want us all to see this,” said Rosenqvist following the last Pac-12 championship of her collegiate career.

The final stretch of the season will be the NCAA championships, in which both the team and individual players and doubles teams could have the chance to make a deep run. After a relatively successful season, this will be the final culmination of the great tennis Cal has displayed over the spring.

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