The last time No. 5 UCLA women’s tennis (18-4, 8-2 Pac-12) team faced rival No. 2 USC (21-2, 10-0) this season, the battle at the Los Angeles Tennis Center turned into a grueling five-hour match, which ended in dramatic fashion.
Senior Chanelle Van Nguyen edged out her opponent in the last singles game of the match, earning the Bruins a victory of 4-3.
On Thursday, the two schools met again, this time at Marks Stadium, in what was set to be another strenuous encounter between Los Angeles’ two powerhouses.
Along with their previous win over the Trojans, the Bruins were optimistic about their chances with the return of sophomore Jennifer Brady, who made her way back on the court after sitting out due to an injury. At the team’s No. 1 doubles spot and No. 2 singles spot, Brady’s return sparked confidence in her team.
“I think all of us, even though we were a lower-ranked team, kind of went into today with an expectation to win,” said junior Catherine Harrison.
The match again ended with the same score of 4-3, only this time it was the Trojans who took home bragging rights.
The day began strong for the Bruins as the No. 15-ranked doubles team of senior Robin Anderson and Brady started the team off with an 8-3 win over USC’s No. 23 doubles team. The doubles point was clinched soon after thanks to an 8-4 win from Van Nguyen and freshman Kristin Wiley.
The momentum continued into singles play as Anderson (3-6, 6-0, 7-5) and Harrison (6-4, 1-6, 6-2) won the first two matches, to put the Bruins’ up 3-0. Only needing one more point to seal both the victory and a share of the Pac-12 title, it looked like the team was about to finish with its second win of the season against its crosstown foe.
But things then took a turn for the worse.
The Trojans took hold of the next three matches, all ending in three sets. With the scored tied at three, the match came down to court No. 4 where junior Kyle McPhillips was taking on USC’s Madison Westby. McPhillips put up a strong fight, but she could not manage to sustain her rally as she succumbed to the Trojan freshman 5-7, 7-6(5), 6-4.
Anderson said both the weather and home field advantage played part in why the momentum slipped from the Bruins’ grasp.
“Today was a struggle for a lot of us because it was really windy,” Anderson said. “The ball was flying so you never really set up well to hit the ball. That was their home court and so they practice there every day, and they were just used to it more than we were.”
Harrison added that the Trojans were overall the greater team on Thursday.
“They were just better than us today. They played with more courage than we did,” Harrison said.
Not only does the loss end the Bruins’ previous seven-game win streak, but it also handed the Trojans the 2015 Pac-12 regular season title.
In the team’s post-match meeting, the Bruins focused on how they will use the loss as motivation for the more important matches coming up in the next month. UCLA said winning the NCAA championship is what really matters most to the team.
UCLA will be back in action on April 23 when they travel to Ojai to compete in the Pac-12 tournament. With USC also in attendance, it is possible a third showdown of the season could take place between the two rivals.