A consistent staple for the UCLA women’s tennis team is its doubles play.
But unlike other years, this season the Bruins will have to rely on their younger players.
No. 25 UCLA has many uncertainties surrounding it, since the team’s lineup consists of two freshmen, two sophomores and two juniors. However, freshman Ena Shibahara and redshirt freshman Jada Hart are among the best in the nation, as they’re ranked No. 9 as doubles partners.
Coach Stella Sampras Webster, in her 22nd season at UCLA, said she feels confident in her new team. Having coached two previous teams to national titles, she sees their doubles play as an advantage for the team.
Stressing the importance of experience between the players, Sampras Webster said she hopes that each partner’s style of play can not only highlight her own strengths, but those of her teammate as well.
“I want my players to be complementary,” Sampras Webster said. “Complementary means you’ve got a setter-upper and a finisher. Those make for great teams.”
Last Saturday, the Bruins defeated the Loyola Marymount Lions, 5-2, and won the doubles point, with victories from Hart and Shibahara and sophomore Gabby Andrews and junior Kristen Wiley. This strong performance helped answer some questions about the strength of the Bruins’ doubles play.
Although junior Terri Fleming didn’t finish her doubles match Saturday, she said she still feels confident in her doubles play alongside sophomore Alaina Miller. Putting up an 8-2 record together last season, the duo will continue together this season as partners.
Fleming said she recognizes that Miller’s strengths and her own strengths on the court are different from one another. Like her coach, Fleming believes these attributes will ultimately be an asset for the Bruins.
“For me, it’s my volleys and then my serves,” Fleming said. “And then for her (Miller), it’s her returns. Together, they are going to work well.”
Despite the success against the Lions, Sampras Webster has also seen areas for improvement with the Bruins.
Increasing their lobs, she believes, can help keep UCLA less vulnerable to difficult shots from other teams.
“I think we could use our lob more instead of trying to hit through the teams,” Sampras Webster said. “Just being smarter and when we are in trouble, moving back off the baseline, we could use our lob more instead of trying to go cross-court where it gives our opponents an easy opportunity to poach.”
Fleming also noticed room for improvement, especially with her serves. She looks to increase her percentage of first serves in the hopes of controlling the game from the onset.
“(We’re working on) making more first serves, to set each other up,” Fleming said. “Then more returns so that we get the opportunity to attack before our opponent does.”
After Saturday’s victories, UCLA’s doubles lineup looks to continue its success into the upcoming season. Despite a young lineup and several concerns, the Bruins feel confident in their play.
“I think we’ve got some weapons,” Sampras Webster said. “We’ve got some players that can hit big serves and great returns. It’s just a matter of being consistent with that.”
The Bruins will travel to Atlanta, Georgia, to play Kentucky on Saturday in the first round of the ITA National Indoors Qualifying Tournament.