Close sets fell both ways for the No. 4 UCLA women’s tennis team (7-2) in the Bay Area. After notching a 6-1 victory against the St. Mary’s Gaels (4-5), the Bruins were unable to replicate that result a day later, dropping three third-set matches in a 4-3 loss to the defending Pac-12 champions, the No. 5 California Bears (6-2).
“It was very competitive,” said coach Stella Sampras Webster. “These are the types of teams that can scare us. They have nothing to lose.”
The No. 2-ranked doubles team of juniors Catherine Harrison and Kyle McPhillips anchored UCLA in doubles, squaring off against the No. 8-ranked team from Cal. Each court featured abrupt momentum swings and numerous lead changes, but seniors Robin Anderson and Chanelle Van Nguyen capitalized on a late break of serve to claim the first doubles match 8-6.
The clincher came from the freshman duo of Terri Fleming and Kristin Wiley, who clawed their way back from 1-5 down to send the match into a tiebreak at seven-all. After failing to convert their first two match points, the freshman duo sealed the doubles point with an 8-7 (8-6) victory.
“We didn’t want to lose,” Wiley said. “We became more focused and aggressive. We weren’t scared of them.”
UCLA and Cal began singles play by exchanging matches, giving the Bruins a 2-1 lead. Senior Kaitlin Ray fell 6-1, 6-3, and Harrison would follow moments later with a 7-5, 6-3 win.
For the second day in a row, the match came down to deciding third sets. Both Fleming and McPhillips raised their level of play to come from sets down to even their matches.
Despite their second-set rallies, Fleming and McPhillips were unable to finish their comeback, dropping both matches to give the Bears a 3-2 lead.
McPhillips, playing her eighth set in two days, battled fatigue and No. 34 Klara Fabikova before ending her weekend with a 6-1, 4-6, 6-0 loss.
Fleming lost her serve early in the set and saw her opponent, Karla Popovic, race out to a 5-2 lead. Although Fleming closed the gap to 5-3, she was unable to outplay the No. 28 player in the country, losing 6-2, 1-6, 6-3.
Van Nguyen and Wiley carried momentum from the doubles contest to claim the first sets of their matches 6-3.
The Bears would respond by capturing the second sets to level and send it to crucial third sets.
Van Nguyen, starting at UCLA’s No. 1 position in place of Anderson, led the country’s No. 1 player Maegan Manasse 6-3, 4-1. Manasse worked herself back into the match, eventually claiming the second set 7-5 with fluid groundstrokes and solid net play.
The senior never recovered and struggled to match Manasse’s rising level of play. Van Nguyen would ultimately lose 6-3, 5-7, 1-6 and the Bears would complete their upset bid.
Wiley earned her second victory of the day, outlasting her opponent 6-3, 2-6, 6-3 to give UCLA its final point in a 4-3 loss.
“These matches show where we are as a team,” Van Nguyen said. “It shows what we have to improve so we’re ready by NCAAs.”
UCLA looks to regroup before facing Pepperdine (4-2) Friday. The Waves are peaking, entering on a three-match win streak with consecutive upset wins against then-No. 25 Texas and No. 17 Texas Christian University.