With graduation last week, Cal women’s tennis lost two huge contributors in Haley Giavara and Erin Richardson. But the future of the program looks strong, as two of Cal’s best returning players — sophomores Katja Wiersholm and Jessica Alsola — find themselves at the USTA campus in Orlando, Florida, preparing for the national championship.
Alsola will be representing the blue and gold in the NCAA singles tournament beginning Monday and will be joined by Wiersholm for the NCAA doubles tournament, happening simultaneously. Alsola’s first match will be Monday at 2:30 p.m. ET, and Tuesday’s doubles matches will be scheduled once Monday’s singles matches are over.
The sophomores, alongside their head coach Amanda Augustus, arrived in Orlando several days early in order to acclimate to the hot, humid weather. Alsola said she was focused on preparing her body physically and mentally. Augustus emphasized that though the two are very fit, it’s important to get used to conditions that are very different from what the Bears are used to in Northern California.
These two sophomores have been the stars of the show since they joined the team, with Alsola coming in fall 2021 and Wiersholm following in January 2022. In fact, this is not Alsola’s first mid-May rodeo — this will be her second postseason NCAA singles tournament appearance. Last year, the Fresno local also qualified for the singles championship, but lost in the round of 64 to No. 9 Chloe Beck of Duke.
Does the experience help Alsola heading into this year? “Definitely.”
“(I’m) more excited, playing last year definitely gave me an insight into how the atmosphere is. So I’m really excited, and hopefully I’ll do better this year,” Alsola said.
Alsola is coming into the tournament leading the blue and gold in wins, with a 29-5 record. Perhaps more impressively, Alsola holds a 19-1 dual match record, losing only against then-No. 24 Alexandra Yepifanova of Stanford in the last match of the regular season.
Augustus remarked on the complete nature of Alsola’s game. Indeed, the sophomore has a powerful serve and can withstand long rallies, but can also execute excellent plays at the net, making her a tough opponent with a versatile style.
“(Alsola) has one of the best all around games in college, our advantage is that we have a lot of options of what we can do when we’re playing against someone — I’d say that’s her biggest advantage,” Augustus said.
The sophomore’s first opponent will be Lea Ma of Georgia — but Alsola doesn’t know that yet. She doesn’t like to look at the draw ahead of time. Ma is the No. 3 player in the country in singles, boasting a 30-5 overall record as of May 11, going 16-3 on court one this season. Alsola, on the other hand, is coming into the matchup ranked No. 55.
As a doubles team, though, Alsola and Wiersholm are the No. 12 pairing in the nation, peaking at No. 4 earlier in the season. They notched some impressive wins on the season, including beating the then-No. 6 duo of UCLA’s Kimmi Hance and Elise Wagle.
The sophomore duo is set to face North Carolina’s Reese Brantmeier and Elizabeth Scotty in its opening match — members of a team fresh off a national championship win Sunday. The two are ranked No. 8 in the country for doubles, not that much higher than the Bears, but hold a spectacular 14-5 record, while Alsola and Wiersholm stand at just 16-13.
While this will be a tough matchup for the young Bears, the two are certainly in a good place to be competitive. Alsola and Wiersholm have played together consistently from the end of last year and have ironed out their communication on court. The two have been competitive even during losses throughout the season and possess complimentary styles that make them strong opponents.
“They’re top players in college. They’ve had a great season, played a lot of matches, so they’re ready for this,” Augustus said. “They’re the future leaders of our team, they’ve already been playing at the top of the lineup for a long time. Regardless of how this week goes, the future’s bright for our team.”