In all sports, teams who seek to reach a higher echelon of performance work tirelessly towards acquiring the skill set that is necessary to compete at the next level. However, once they develop this skill set, teams often face the challenge of finding the grit to actually execute against the elite teams they’ve been training to beat. The Cal women’s tennis team’s narrow 4-3 loss to defending national champion Stanford on Friday demonstrates that this is precisely the position it is in.
The Bears got off to a disappointing start in doubles. After the two sides split matches on the first and second courts, attention turned towards the third court, where Cal’s Jada Bui and Erin Richardson faced Stanford’s Sara Choy and Emma Higuchi. Despite having a match point at 5-4, Bui and Richardson fell 5-7 to the Cardinal duo, giving Stanford the doubles point.
The Cardinal carried its success from doubles into singles, where it quickly won matches on the first and second courts to establish a 3-0 lead. Although Cal regrouped with wins by Julia Rosenqvist and Bui on the third and fourth courts, respectively, Stanford clinched the overall match victory with Choy’s 6-2, 6-3 win over the blue and gold’s Hannah Viller Moeller. The Bears would go on to notch another win on court 6, bringing the final scoreline to 4-3.
In hindsight, the missed opportunity in doubles proved to be highly consequential for Cal, which, with the loss, slipped to 14-6 on the season and surrendered its second-place Pac-12 ranking to Stanford. The result is reminiscent of the Bears’ recent encounter with then-No. 7 Pepperdine, where Cal’s narrow loss in the doubles point kept them from defeating a national powerhouse.
With the first round of the Pac-12 team championships set to start on Friday at the Barnes Tennis Center in San Diego, the looming question surrounding the Bears is whether they can string together numerous wins over highly ranked teams. As the No. 3 seed in the tournament, Cal’s path to a championship would likely include encounters with both second-seeded Stanford and first-seeded UCLA.
Of course, the blue and gold showed they possess the talent to beat the best teams in the country with their 4-3 upset of then-No. 3 UCLA early in the season. However, Cal’s more recent losses to Pepperdine, UCLA and Stanford have brought into question whether it can execute in such matches on a consistent basis, as it would need to if it was to earn its first Pac-12 trophy since 2014.
“We’ve been very close in many matches against the top teams but we haven’t quite got the win,” Rosenqvist said. “We need to bring the hype (to the tournament) and continue to believe in our team.”
Though Cal is a contender for the title, No. 5 UCLA is undeniably the team to beat. The Bruins are currently on a nine-match win streak which includes 7-0 sweeps of both the Bears and the Cardinal, as well as a 5-2 win over the then-No. 6 Pepperdine Waves. Further, their sole loss to a Pac-12 team this season came in the aforementioned non-conference duel with Cal, where UCLA’s third-ranked singles player, Elysia Bolton, did not play singles.
The Bears will receive a bye into the second round of the tournament, where they face the winner between Utah and No. 47 Oregon on Saturday at 12 p.m. Cal holds 1-0 head-to-head records over both teams this season.
Milad Shafaie covers women’s tennis. Contact him at email@example.com.