Injuries, loss and an overwhelming environment knocked the UCLA women’s tennis team off-kilter in a close 4-2 loss to Georgia at the ITA National Women’s Team Indoor Championships the previous week. The Bruins now face future match play striving to reach an uncommon goal: achieving balance.
In preparing for the No. 17 Texas Christian University Horned Frogs (4-3), the No. 4 Bruins (5-1) concocted an unusual game plan for their players consisting of study time and rest with light practices sprinkled in between.
“Indoors takes a lot out of everyone,” said coach Stella Sampras Webster. “Players are in different places physically, so we have to manage everyone differently.”
With key players including sophomore Jennifer Brady and senior Robin Anderson out for Saturday, the Bruins need the rest of the line up to be ready to compete, particularly in doubles, even with the No. 2-ranked tandem of juniors Catherine Harrison and Kyle McPhillips anchoring the team.
“We’re putting in the doubles work,” said senior Kaitlin Ray. “We learned a lot from three tough matches and we’re taking the challenges to the practice court.”
However, in a rare doubles loss to Georgia, the first since 2013, UCLA was unable to win the singles matches needed to overcome the early setback. Now, they know each player needs to be fresh, ready and focused on her own match and opponent rather than on the overall team score.
“We have to be able to find four wins somewhere else,” Ray said. “We’re a talented team, but we need each person to win.”
The sentiment was unanimous.
“Having six players that can win, that’s an edge,” McPhillips said. That’s how we won a national championship.”
Against a TCU team coming off its biggest win in program history over the then-No. 4 Duke team, the Bruins face a tough, confident and competitive Horned Frogs team led by veteran senior Stefanie Tan and first-year coach Lee Taylor Walker.
“They’ve changed the culture of their program,” Sampras Webster said. “It’ll come down to every match and our players can’t depend on anyone else to win.”
In a team composed of both upper and lower classmen, the veterans of last year’s NCAA championship team work to integrate their big match experience with the freshmen’s hunger to win.
“I hate losing,” said freshman Kristin Wiley.
Yet, the coaching staff stresses that an equal combination of both winning and losing will lead to success.
“I want the team to be hungry and urgent to win,” Sampras Webster said. “But the goal is to reach our potential.”
With TCU and Pac-12 play looming, the Bruins look forward to not only taking the upcoming challenges but also being able to test the potential of being a deep, balanced team.