Two of collegiate tennis’ most storied programs have punched their tickets for a shot at once again lifting the championship trophy.
The UCLA men’s and women’s tennis squads both qualified for their respective NCAA Division I Tennis Tournaments, with the men’s team receiving the No. 5 overall seed and the women’s team earning an at-large bid in Pepperdine’s regional.
The men’s team will host Army in the first round Friday, and coach Billy Martin said he believes his team earned hosting privileges with its play during the regular season.
“The guys have done a fantastic job so I’m happy to host regionals,” Martin said. “If someone told me that in the beginning that we would be the fifth seed going into the NCAA, we would have had a pretty good year.”
If the Bruins get past the first round, they are slated to play either UC Santa Barbara or Mississippi at Sunset Canyon Recreation Center. UCSB won the Big West conference tournament over Cal Poly and received an automatic bid, while Mississippi lost to Florida 4-0 in the quarterfinals of the SEC tournament.
No. 12-seeded Texas A&M will likely be UCLA’s first opponent when the tournament shifts to Athens, Georgia, starting in the round of 16. Last year the Bruins and the Aggies faced off in the ITA Indoor Championship and the Bruins came out with a 4-2 victory.
Junior Austin Rapp nonetheless said he is most concerned with the first two matches of the tournament, and the team is staying focused on one match at a time.
“We are most concerned with the first two matches. As cliche as it sounds, you don’t want to look ahead,” Rapp said. “Going into the tournament, it’s really important to stay focused on every match because if you let a match slip, there’s nothing there to back you up.”
In the women’s bracket, UCLA will face UCSB in the first round and could play LIU Brooklyn or No. 12 overall seed Pepperdine in the second round. The women’s team struggled in the later parts of the season, losing the last three matches of regular season to amass a record of 13-8.
The Bruins are familiar with their probable opponents, however, as they defeated the Gauchos 4-0 in early February. If the team beats UCSB, its next opponent would most likely be Pepperdine, which bested UCLA 5-2 at the end of February.
Women’s tennis coach Stella Sampras Webster knows that these opponents will cause problems for the team but is excited for the challenge.
“It would be nice to play a team that doesn’t know us, but we got the draw that we have and we have to make the best of it,” Webster said. “During this time, it’s about which team gets hot and I’m preparing our team to give it all they got.”
Pac-12 rivals USC, California and Stanford come into the men’s tournament seeded No. 4, No. 8 and No. 16 respectively, while in the women’s bracket, No. 7 Stanford and No. 13 Cal are the only two seeded Pac-12 teams.