The closer the national championship tournament nears, the higher the anticipation rises for UCLA’s women’s tennis.
“They have been waiting for this all year,” said coach Stella Sampras Webster.
With the only thing standing between the Bruins and the 2015 NCAA Tournament being two final weeks of practice, the excitement level is at a season high.
“I have definitely noticed more intensity and more drive in all of my teammates,” said junior Catherine Harrison.
The intensity comes off of what has been a successful season for the defending national champions.
After the Pac-12 tournament this past weekend, the team’s record stands at 18-4 (8-2 Pac-12). The four losses come only from top-10 ranked teams, as No. 6 UCLA fell to No. 7 Georgia, No. 2 USC and twice to No. 3 Cal.
What was perhaps the Bruins’ lowest moment of the season came just over two weeks ago, when the team, which had already beaten the Trojans earlier in the season at home, gave up a 3-0 lead against its rival, ultimately losing the match 4-3.
“I think that loss versus ‘SC really kicked us into gear and really motivated us,” Harrison said. “We really thought we had that one won, and that one stung.”
Motivation will prove key as the team prepares for its final stretch of the season. With less than two weeks left between now and the biggest tournament of the year, the team’s game plan has been set and is ready to go.
Sampras Webster said that this first week of practice, the players will be focusing on fitness and making sure their bodies are in the right place physically for match play. The latter week, she plans to taper things down and focus on the fine-tuning of each player’s game. She added that the team will be working a lot on doubles, since until recently, the focus had been on the Pac-12 tournament, where the team competed only in singles.
“These next weeks are about making sure they are taking care of themselves, playing enough, but not too much, and getting to be where they need to be,” Sampras Webster said.
As the reigning national champions, UCLA will enter the tournament as one of the nation’s top competitors. The team will fight it out against fellow powerhouse teams, including USC and its final-match opponent of 2014, North Carolina, for a chance to take home the title for a second consecutive year.
The Bruins will also return to NCAAs with the same top-six players from last year’s winning team. Each of the returning six players plans to be at her healthiest, giving the team an advantage when it comes to experience.
“We are a contender,” Sampras Webster said. “They know that they have a great opportunity ahead of them. I want them to embrace it and to really get after it.”
For Harrison, winning a second national title in a row would solidify the team’s hard work and prove to her that the Bruins were more than just a one-hit wonder.
“It would be so cool to go out there and dominate again to say, ‘(Last year’s win) was not a fluke,’” Harrison said. “To repeat and to win would just be unbelievable.”