UCLA women’s tennis has one central goal in mind to start off the season.
Fight off the injuries.
“I think the biggest thing I’m hoping for is that everyone stays healthy,” said coach Stella Sampras Webster, going into her 22nd season as UCLA head coach. “I think if we stay healthy, there is a lot of potential with this team.”
On Friday afternoon, the No. 25 Bruins face off against the Loyola Marymount Lions in both teams’ season openers. After injuries and a quick loss in the NCAA Tournament hampered last year’s goals, UCLA brings in new faces and a new lineup to attempt to bounce back from last season’s disappointments.
“We are very solid throughout the whole team,” said sophomore Alaina Miller. “That’s exciting. I know what we have and I know what we can do.”
Miller said she feels confident about the upcoming season. The Saratoga, California native was 14-6 at No. 3 singles last year and the Pac-12 Doubles Invitational champion, alongside junior Terri Fleming.
The Bruins, Miller believes, can reach a strong level of team camaraderie and team chemistry. She sees the team’s small amount of players as an asset.
“Because we have such a small team now, we’re with each other 24/7,” Miller said. “It’s really easy for us to get along.”
On the other hand, the Lions were selected to place sixth in the West Coast Conference after finishing the 2016 season at 9-13.
Sophomore Elvira Juravliova, who posted a 14-2 record in No. 4 singles last year, leads LMU into Friday’s matchup. She will be joined by senior Jessica Perez, who won 11 singles matches last season.
“I think everyone will be a little nervous, especially our freshmen,” coach Sampras Webster said. “I think, though, they’re focusing on the right thing.”
Freshman Ena Shibahara will also have her collegiate debut with the Bruins.
Winning the 2016 US Open Girls’ Doubles Championship alongside teammate freshman Jada Hart and a high school record including Southern California High School Female Player of the Year in 2014 and 2015, Shibahara will be a significant addition to the team.
The freshman brought in a unique mindset to UCLA. The Bruins are in an unfamiliar situation, ranking outside of the preseason top 15 for the first time since 2009. She said this position could ultimately be helpful for the team.
“We’re sort of like the underdog,” Shibahara said. “We are such a small team, so we are basically limited. There’s really no pressure.”
With preseason matches and training officially behind it, UCLA still faces uncertainty in both its singles and doubles matchups. Last year’s top two singles players, Catherine Harrison and Kyle McPhillips, graduated, creating a void in the lineup.
“It’s going to be a roller coaster,” Shibahara said. “Whatever the outcome is, we’re going to have each other’s backs. I think that’s what I’m most looking forward to.”