Final countdown: Giavara, Alsola to play in NCAA singles championship

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College tennis is unique in that you play individually — in singles, at least — but, really, you’re playing for the team. It’s every player for themselves out on the court, but a win or loss could define the trajectory of the team in a given dual match or championship.

This is rarely as important as it will be this week, as Haley Giavara and Jessica Alsola of Cal women’s tennis will begin their run at the NCAA singles championship in Urbana, Illinois. Since the end of the NCAA team championship, where Cal fell 4-0 against NC State in the sweet 16, Alsola moved up into the main draw from alternates.

The two players have undoubtedly had successful seasons.

Giavara, a court-one player all season, is one of the strongest on the team. With short rallies, a very powerful serve and aggression at the baseline, the rising senior will surely give opponents a run for their money.

Although her 10-12 win-loss record on court one as of the end of April doesn’t indicate a strong player, it is crucial to consider the sheer strength of court one athletes. In all dual matches, teams place their strongest player on court one.

While Giavara certainly endured losses over the season, she is a strong contender well-versed in playing the best of the best. In April, Giavara was named Pac-12 Player of the Week for her play against Stanford in a match that won Cal the regular season Pac-12 championship.

“I want to leave it all on the court, I don’t want to come off the court thinking ‘I should’ve done this, I should’ve done that,’ ” Giavara said. “Everyone is really good, so it’ll just be about competing through every match.”

Giavara competed in the tournament last year and lost in the first round to eventual championship winner, Virginia’s Emma Navarro — a player once ranked No. 1 on the junior circuit in the nation. Last year, Giavara was injured at the time of the tournament. Now, she said, she’s excited to be healthy and play at the top of her game.

Alsola joined the team as a freshman in the fall of 2021. Fitting in seamlessly, the freshman has had the most singles wins on the team, posting a 31-9 win-loss record as of the end of April. Aggressive at the net and with a seemingly effortless forehand, the freshman is ready to make her first singles NCAA tournament appearance.

“She’s been so successful this year, and her being new is actually an advantage because not everybody knows her yet, so there’s really no pressure on her,” said Cal head coach Amanda Augustus.

Alsola stood out early on in the fall, earning a spot in fall nationals alongside junior Erin Richardson, her doubles partner at the time. Early in the year, she too earned the honor of being named Pac-12 Player of the Week for her wins against Pepperdine and UC Santa Barbara.

While Giavara has been away playing a professional tournament in Alabama, Alsola has been practicing on the Berkeley home courts. Augustus said they were working on her serve and feeling the ball.

“She’s made big improvements with her confidence and her transition shots this spring, so at this point we’ve already put the work in, now it’s just feeling sharp and getting ready for the conditions — we might be inside, we might be outside,”Augustus said about Alsola.

As the Bears head out to Illinois, they hope to make a mark on the national draw consisting of the top players in the country. The stakes are high: Should they reach the round of 16, they would be selected for the All-American team, and a tournament win earns a wildcard into this year’s U.S. Open Championship.

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