A composed McCall Jones came up with some brief but fighting words for USC after suffering through a 6-1 senior-day thrashing at the hands of the Trojans.
“Honestly, (the loss) was such a good awakening, and now we know. … It’s not gonna happen again,” said a smiling, nonchalant Jones in late April. “I know the next time we play, we’re gonna kill them.”
Though the senior overestimated UCLA’s margin of victory, her words nonetheless proved prophetic in the postseason rematch. Jones won six straight third-set games to close out the Bruins’ 4-3 win.
Jones claimed her first set win over opponent Danielle Lao in six tries this season by taking the first frame 6-4. After Lao tied up the match in the second set, Jones faced the prospect of a 3-0 deficit in the final set when she realized the gravity of her match.
“I knew (senior Carling Seguso) was struggling. I saw (junior Pamela Montez) all of a sudden start to struggle, and I knew that it was going to come down to me. Something kicked in and all of a sudden I started playing better than I had during the entire match,” Jones said.
The senior simplified her game by playing to stay alive in points, allowing Jones to wear out her competition on one of the hotter days of this year’s tournament. Lao called for a break at 5-2, and Jones’ killer instincts made the Bruin wary of losing momentum. After using the break to tape up a blister that had opened up during the match, Jones delivered the coup de grace to her gassed opponent, vaulting UCLA to its second championship game appearance in five years.
Coming into the match, coach Stella Sampras Webster made a point to start out strong with doubles following last month’s loss. Her players answered the call.
With 8-3 and 8-4 victories to start off the Final Four match, sophomore Courtney Dolehide and Montez combined with the pair of freshmen Robin Anderson and Skylar Morton to bury USC in the doubles point early.
“We were really intense. We came out strong … and we didn’t get down on ourselves. Our teammates were competing really hard too, and that helped us, seeing them fight also,” said Morton, who plays on the team’s top doubles unit.
Freshman Chanelle Van Nguyen drove the Trojans into the ground a little farther with a 6-0 first set singles win, but USC proceeded to find new life, winning half of the first sets. After Morton posted the only straight set victory of the day to give the Bruins a 2-0 edge, the Trojans finished digging out of their early hole, scoring three-straight victories to put UCLA on the brink of its second-straight Final Four exit.
Down 3-2 and at a time when the team needed them the most, the top of the ladder came through in elevating UCLA to the promised land. Anderson shook off a tiebreaker loss in her first set to seize 6-4, 6-2 wins at the No. 1 spot, avenging April’s straight-set defeat to Zoe Scandalis and setting up Jones’ clincher on court No. 2.
Having defeated USC and Cal en route to the title round, UCLA has avenged two of its last three losses. UCLA will get the chance for one more revenge match today, as it draws the Florida team that bounced UCLA from the semifinals last year.
Sampras Webster believes that the growth exhibited by a young UCLA team will sustain the Bruins against the reigning champions, who return all six players from last year.
“They may have the advantage of being a team that already won a championship, but maybe there’ll be a little pressure. Our team is a young team, but you can never count (us) out. (We have) a talented group of players, and we’re playing some of the best tennis we have all season.”
Jones’ season-long icy cool attitude toward big games figures to finally die down should she and her teammates bring home UCLA’s 109th NCAA Championship.
“We didn’t come here to reach the finals. We came to win the whole thing.”