Five years ago, the UCLA women’s tennis team captured the program’s first-ever NCAA championship. For the team, it was a part of history; for Pamela Montez, a senior at La Quinta High School still contemplating where to go to school, it was a sign.
The blue-chip tennis recruit was struggling to decide between coming to Westwood or going across town to USC, but when the Bruins captured the NCAA crown, it became an easy choice.
Four years later, Montez was on the court in Champaign, Ill. fighting to extend UCLA’s run in the NCAA tournament – and her own playing career.
The UCLA senior defeated the No. 39 player in the country to secure the Bruins’ upset bid over the No. 2 seeded North Carolina Tar Heels in the quarterfinals of the NCAA tournament. But the next match would prove to be her last as UCLA fell, 4-3, to Texas A&M in the semifinals, only a win away from returning to the title match for the second consecutive year.
“Every single year it was tough to lose. This year wasn’t as hard because last year was so heartbreaking losing in the final match,” Montez said. “I knew that it could be my last match, my last point ever, but it didn’t really sink in till later.”
Montez was a part of coach Stella Sampras Webster’s No. 7-ranked recruiting class in 2009, joining the team as a promising talent after it had won it all the year before.
This season, Montez flew under the radar as new young stars garnered much of the attention she once commanded. Players like sophomores Robin Anderson and Skylar Morton and freshman Kyle McPhillips were part of a new, young core that took the lead for the Bruins, each qualifying for the NCAA individuals.
“I don’t think I have ever gotten very much attention,” Montez said. “I have been very much up and down with my results, and I play my way into the season.”
Though Montez played up and down at times during her career, Sampras Webster said she was also a clutch player the team counted on to deliver big late in the year.
Montez finished with a 4-1 record at the 2011 NCAA championships and reached the semifinals of the NCAA doubles bracket in 2012. Montez’s clutch play continued this year in the NCAA tournament; she did not lose a single doubles match playing with junior Courtney Dolehide and lost just once in singles play, dropping the final match of her career against Texas A&M.
“I don’t know what it is that allows her to perform her best at the very end,” Sampras Webster said. “Maybe she knows it’s the end and that we need her very best and she has been able to get whatever she can out of herself because she is a great player.”
While Montez was not the most talked about player on the team, the coaches and players noted that she was a leader of the team, though not in the traditional sense.
“She leads by example, she is not a vocal leader,” Sampras Webster said. “She does what she needs to do to be at her best and I think the girls look up to her for that.”
Montez said she was naturally able to help players out more because of her familiarity with the coaches and the program.
Anderson, the team’s top singles player, was able to learn by observing how the senior handled herself over the past two seasons.
“Pam is very stoic, she doesn’t show what she is feeling on the court. I think that is how people should be on the court,” Anderson said.
Now that Montez has hit her last serve for UCLA tennis, she is unsure if she will take the next step and try to play professionally, noting the physical toll playing at the next level would take.
“I have been battling injuries throughout the year. For tennis to even be a part of my future, I would have to learn how to feel my body,” Montez said.
Though Montez came to UCLA focused on winning a title, she plans to extend her stay in Westwood even after her collegiate tennis career has come to a close. She will return to school next year to continue her education. Having already earned a political science degree, Montez will take classes in psychology at UCLA before pursuing a master’s in the field.
She may not have achieved her ultimate goal in coming to UCLA, but Montez maintains that her time with tennis has made a profound impact as she sets her sights on new challenges.
“Tennis has shaped me, shaped my life – it’s all I’ve done since I was 7 years old,” she said. ”I don’t really know how to do anything else besides be a tennis player, but it has taught me to work hard and to envision a goal and go after it.”