A young UCLA women’s tennis team stepped into the spotlight last year by asserting itself as a top team in the nation, only to be thrashed in the championship game 4-0 by the Florida Gators.
The No. 2 team in the nation retains the high expectations despite the bitter conclusion of last season, remaining highly motivated on its path to redemption.
“We had an amazing, unexpected season last year. The difference now is that there are expectations, and the team has expectations. You can get caught up in that,” said coach Stella Sampras Webster. “They may be feeling the pressure. Some maybe will be feeling it will be easy to get back there. Others will be having some anxiety. There’s going to be some different feelings within the team.”
On its path to redemption, the team begins with two stepping stones in Las Vegas and Palm Springs, Calif. for the first team competition. While four players, led by Sampras Webster, go to Palm Springs to compete at the National Collegiate Tennis Classic, four others will head to Las Vegas to compete in the Freeman Memorial Championships with associate coach Rance Brown. The group attending the Las Vegas tournament will be sophomore Chanelle Van Nguyen, freshman Kyle McPhillips, senior Pamela Montez and junior Courtney Dolehide.
“I think it’s preparation for the dual matches,” McPhillips said. “It’s our first event back since fall. I think it’s a stepping stone to carrying us into a good, strong season.”
The fall season was productive, especially as sophomore Robin Anderson became the first UCLA player since 1995 to win a title at the USTA/ITA National Indoor Intercollegiate Championships.
The team appears to feel prepared and comfortable as it approaches its first dual match next week. The fall allowed for bonding and chemistry to foster within the team and provided for a solid basis to begin the season.
“Now it’s all about competing,” Sampras Webster said.
A notable aspect of the group traveling to Las Vegas is the interesting dichotomy between the veterans and newcomers. Montez recalled the experience of her first tournament.
“When you’re a freshman, you often feel like you need to prove yourself. Whereas in my case, the coaches already know how I play so it’s more about just another tournament to get back into it before team matches start,” Montez said.
McPhillips, as a highly recruited prospect out of high school and one of four traveling to Las Vegas, conceded some differences from junior competition to college-level competition. However, she maintained a calm attitude toward the prospect of competing in the upcoming tournament.
“I don’t really feel pressure,” the freshman said. “I just want to go out and do my best.”
While neither the veteran nor the newcomer feels the burden of pressure on their play this weekend, the expectations remain high for the Bruins as their season gets under way. The Bruins’ first opportunity to move past the bitterness of last season begins with their competitions in Las Vegas and Palm Springs today.