On Friday, No. 26 Cal fell to No. 28 USC in the semifinals of the Pac-12 championship in Ojai, California. The loss was an upset on the part of USC, as the Bears were seeded higher going into the tournament and were last year’s regular season champions. The Bears were also coming off of a promising win against No. 63 Colorado, whom they routed 4-0 in the championship opener Thursday.
To begin the Pac-12 tournament for second-seeded Cal, it faced the 10th-seeded Buffs. The Bears found quick success in doubles, with junior Hannah Viller Moeller and senior Erin Richardson beating their opponents 6-1, and seniors Valentina Ivanov and Haley Giavara doing the same soon after, reigning victorious with a 6-2 scoreline.
Giavara, who has had a terrific career at Cal, was also named the 2023 Pac-12 Women’s Tennis Scholar-Athlete of the Year the same morning.
The Bears were comparably dominant in singles, with sophomore Katja Wiersholm winning 6-0, 6-2 against Colorado’s Mila Stanojevic. Viller Moeller then won against Carri Hayes 6-2, 6-0, and sophomore Jessica Alsola, ranked No. 55 nationwide in singles, also defeated her opponent in straight sets right after to give Cal the win.
Following their exciting victory Thursday, the Bears were slated to compete against USC in the semifinals. The afternoon match began with the Bears leading doubles, with Viller Moeller and Richardson swiftly defeating Emma Charney and Nathalie Rodilosso 6-2.
However, soon after, the Trojans’ highest-ranking doubles team of Snow Han and Naomi Cheong beat Ivanov and Giavara, with Alsola and Wiersholm falling soon after with a loss to Grace Piper and Madison Sieg, 6-4.
Entering singles trailing 0-1, the Bears fought hard during their final six matches against the Trojans. Freshman Berta Passola Folch lost to Piper 6-4, 6-1, but Alsola defeated Han in straight sets 6-1, 6-2 to tally another point for the Bears.
The Bears picked up even more momentum after this, with Viller Moeller beating Sloane Marra 6-1, 6-1. However, the Bears were ultimately unable to pull off a successful comeback, with Wiersholm dropping her match 6-3, 6-3 and Ivanov losing in a tough three-set match against Cheong, 2-6, 6-0, 6-3.
“There’s definitely a couple of points here and there that cost me my match, and (Cheong) took it as well,” Ivanov said. “I’ve learned a lot from that tournament about my game and what I want to do moving forward. Same goes for everyone on the team — we either win, or you learn.”
It is also worth mentioning that Ivanov, who is coming back from an injury that cost her most of the season, has made significant strides to return to a high level of play this weekend.
“I’m really grateful (for) all the work I put in, in the training room and (with) the psychologist, everyone that got me back on the court this week,” Ivanov said. “It was a team effort. My teammates were really supportive and definitely got me back quicker than I anticipated.”
Going forward into the NCAA tournament, Cal head coach Amanda Augustus is set on honing in on her team’s strengths, but emphasizes the need to be consistent in regard to clinching the doubles point.
“One of the biggest keys is just making sure that we’re starting the point well, making sure we’re using enough variety in our returns, making sure we’re being aggressive enough,” Augustus said.
Despite their early exit from the Pac-12 tournament, the Bears earned a spot in the NCAA tournament set to start Friday, with San Diego — a team Cal lost to 4-1 earlier in the season — slated to be their first opponent. In addition, NCAA singles and doubles selections will be announced May 2. As many of the Bears’ players have shown themselves to be fierce competitors this season, there will likely be splashes of blue and gold throughout the individual and doubles draws as well.
A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that Cal women’s tennis had beaten San Diego 5-1 earlier in the season. In fact, the team lost to San Diego 4-1.