Living up to their apex predator namesake, the Florida Gators victimized the UCLA women’s tennis team with their deadly prowess at depth and on the surface, terrorizing the Bruins 4-0 en route to their second consecutive national championship.
A season, in which UCLA’s depth at courts four through six often provided a winning edge, ended on a day when neither the top nor bottom of the team ladder could establish any footing against a championship team that had all of its starters return.
“We played really hard, we tried everything. … Florida just came out really strong, and you can tell they had been there before,” said ITA Coach of the Year Stella Sampras Webster.
“They make you play. Our shots weren’t as sharp as they needed to be, and we weren’t able to finish off points, and that was the difference. … They don’t give up many free points.”
UCLA, which only had two returners play full time this year, had its hands full against a front-loaded champion. Along with Stanford, Florida boasted at least one more top-25 player than any other team in the country. Half of the Bruins won singles sets, despite the fact that UCLA only has one top-70 player.
As in all losses this year, the Bruins dropped the doubles point. Freshmen Robin Anderson and Skylar Morton lost six straight games to start out, and mustered only two wins before becoming Florida’s first victims of the day. Seniors McCall Jones and Carling Seguso fared better in pushing their opponents to 5-5, but the pair could not rescue UCLA from the jaws of a doubles defeat, losing three straight to get Florida on the scoreboard.
Jones felt that the doubles loss featured plenty bite on the part of her and Seguso.
“We were off our game, making too many mistakes. The (other) team didn’t do too much; we kind of just beat ourselves. That’s … what happens when (Seguso) and I lose, because we’re typical West Coast players that hit the ball. We’re not gonna just push … we go for our shots.”
In their straight set losses, Morton and freshman Chanelle Van Nguyen combined for seven total wins to put UCLA in a 3-0 hole about an hour into singles play. Junior Pamela Montez split sets and Seguso was on the way to joining her when Jones failed to pull out a victory in her second set, concluding the Bruins’ second straight NCAA loss to the Gators.
UCLA’s best player, however, made her case for placement atop the college tennis food chain. Anderson came within one game of beating top-ranked Florida junior Allie Will in straight sets, less than 24 hours after being taken to the hospital for cramps that resulted from Monday’s three-set match in the hot Georgian air.
“I knew she was gonna come out and play well. I knew she was a grinder. … I just wanted to just leave it all on the court, and I did. I couldn’t have asked for more out of myself,” said Anderson, who was honored with the No. 1 spot on the all-tournament team. Had Anderson defeated Will, the No. 4 player in the nation would have victories over all three players ranked higher than her.
From day one of the dual match season, Bruin veterans such as Jones stressed the importance of the postseason success like that enjoyed by Anderson. Even throughout the time spent sitting atop the national rankings since late February, players remained reserved in their reactions to the likes of 20 straight wins and an Indoors title to start the season, choosing to keep their eyes set on May.
After completing a run to the championship round, Sampras Webster believes that her entire team is once again well-equipped to deal with carrying out such a singularly focused, year-long hunt, as well as being among the hunted for years to come.
“I don’t think they really quite understood the excitement of it; they had never played in it, and I think they now know what it’s really about. They understand the sense of urgency this time of the season,” Sampras Webster said. “I think they are a team that loves to be in the spotlight, and thrives under pressure and is fearless. It’s exciting to have players like that because you know they’ll battle through anything.”