The upcoming season undoubtedly means a lot to everyone involved with UCLA women’s tennis, even if for slightly different reasons.
For senior leader Andrea Remynse, it means filling the void left by the departed Yasmin Schnack, who served as the team’s No. 1 singles player for the better part of the past two years.
“It’s a tough role to fill,” Remynse said. “(Schnack) was a great player, great friend and obviously an amazing captain; she did a really good job leading. I’m lucky that I have (fellow seniors Maya Johansson and Noelle Hickey) to help me fill such huge shoes.”
For newcomer McCall Jones, a junior transfer from BYU, it’s about experiencing a collective euphoria that has evaded her in the past.
“I’m excited to start winning,” Jones said. “We lost a lot last year at BYU. It’ll be fun to win as a team; I haven’t really experienced that so far. When all the other girls are in bad moods, and I’m the only one who’s won, it’s really hard to have fun.”
For coach Stella Sampras Webster, it’s about her team realizing its potential and achieving the lofty but by no means unattainable goal of bringing home the national title, something the Bruins have come close to doing in the past two seasons but have fallen short.
“I think we’re in a good spot,” Sampras Webster said. “I’m excited for this season ““ we’ve got a lot of experience and a lot of maturity on this team. I’m expecting to do quite well.”
The Bruins are ranked No. 5 in the Intercollegiate Tennis Association’s preseason poll, and while Sampras Webster appreciates the recognition, it is not something the team takes too much stock in this early in the season.
“I know that we’re going to get better as the season goes on,” Sampras Webster said. “Top five right now is not a bad spot, but I just want to see our team get better and have the mentality of that.”
The team also has the most senior leadership since UCLA’s last national championship run in 2008. Remynse, Hickey and Johansson bear the responsibility of leading the team both on and off the court and are aiming to strike a balance between ambition and camaraderie.
“They’ve been really good captains,” Jones said. “Since I’m new, I almost feel like I’m a freshman again, starting over with a new program. They’ve made me feel really welcome. They’ve been really good leaders on the court, they’re really good at encouraging everyone.”
One possible area of concern for the Bruins in 2011 is a former source of great strength.
Winning the doubles point was almost a certainty for UCLA last season, as the Bruins captured 21 of 25, but Schnack’s departure throws a wrench in the process.
Schnack and Remynse were nearly untouchable in the No. 1 spot, posting a stellar record of 21-3 and finishing the season as the ITA’s No. 5 doubles tandem in the nation, but there is a considerably higher amount of uncertainty surrounding that aspect of the team heading into this season.
“I honestly have no idea what our (doubles) lineup is going to be,” Remynse said. “I know who’s playing doubles, I know which combos we’re starting with, but I don’t know what’s one, two and three.”
After splitting up the team to take part in both the Las Vegas Classic and National Collegiate Tennis Classic this weekend, the Bruins will regroup and focus on making another deep run in the NCAA Tournament. The Bruins will face their first true test relatively early in the season when they travel north to face No. 10 California and No. 1 Stanford on Feb. 4 and 5, respectively. The Bruins handed the defending champion Cardinal its only loss of 2010, and the Golden Bears eliminated the Bruins from the 2010 National Team Indoor Championships, so one can expect some bad blood in both matchups.
The Bruins looked unbeatable for parts of last season, but to win the national title, their timing will have to improve.
“One thing that we’ll hopefully learn from last year is that we don’t want to peak in March,” Remynse said. “We really want to peak in May.”