One thing is certain for UCLA women’s tennis as the postseason begins.
Every match counts.
The Pac-12 championship kicks off Thursday in Ojai, California, for No. 23 UCLA (13-7, 7-3 Pac-12) as it faces Oregon (13-9, 6-4) in the single elimination bracket.
After losses to Arizona State and USC, the Bruins ended the regular season in a tie for third in the conference. They will enter the tournament as the No. 4 seed by virtue of their loss to the Sun Devils.
Following the recent defeats, coach Stella Sampras Webster sees the tournament as a chance for a fresh start.
“It’s like a whole new season now,” Sampras Webster said. “This is where we want to be our best and learn from the last two matches.”
Both recent losses for the Bruins ended in a score of 4-3. What the team can take away most, Sampras Webster said, is focusing on their mentality, playing smarter and being patient.
For junior Kristin Wiley, she said the team is looking for redemption this time around.
“We’ve all been working really hard and are actually pretty confident,” Wiley said. “We obviously aren’t happy with the recent losses and we just want to get revenge.”
This year, the tournament will be played between teams rather than individual singles and doubles brackets.
Feeding off the excitement of a team environment will be key for the Bruins’ success, said freshman Ena Shibahara.
“I’m just going to be really positive out there and bring a lot of energy to help my teammates,” Shibahara said. “Focusing on my match, but also being sure to cheer on my teammates in between points.”
The Oregon Ducks are a familiar opponent, as the Bruins defeated them 4-1 in March. No. 71 Shweta Sangwan and Julia Eshet, the top doubles team for Oregon as of the last four matches, have not lost thus far.
When No. 3 Shibahara last faced Sangwan in March, the match went unfinished with Shibahara leading, having won the first set 7-6 and tied in the second 1-1. This time, Shibahara said, it comes down to effectively setting up the points and finishing inside the court.
The last match against Oregon was played indoors. Being outside, Sampras Webster said, is an advantage for the Bruins, but the hot weather conditions will be tough.
If UCLA wins Thursday, it faces the winner of the match between No. 1-seeded Stanford and No. 8-seeded Utah.
Playing matches on back-to-back days, Shibahara said, is one of the toughest challenges of the tournament.
“It’s three matches in a row, three days in a row,” Shibahara said. “We’re just going to have to take care of our bodies so that we can compete at our best.”
This year, for the first time, the winner of the Pac-12 tournament will automatically qualify for the NCAA championship. “The biggest challenge is just believing in ourselves and not letting scores or thinking about the outcome of the matches get to us,” Wiley said. “(It’s about) just staying in the moment.”