Last season, UCLA women’s tennis lost in the second round of the NCAA Tournament to Ohio State – failing to reach the round of 16 for the first time since 1999.
This year, the team looks to redeem itself.
The No. 23 Bruins (13-8, 7-3 Pac-12) begin their run at the 2017 NCAA title Friday, taking on UC Santa Barbara (17-9, 7-1 Big West) in Malibu, California.
After a first-round loss to Oregon at the Pac-12 Championships, coach Stella Sampras Webster said the key in this tournament is preparation for the intense environment.
“I think they can only be ready for it if they go through it,” Sampras Webster said. “There’s nothing I can do in practice to give them that same feeling of playing in the NCAAs. Just preparing them for what they can control is all we have to do.”
For freshman Ena Shibahara, sophomore Gabby Andrews and redshirt freshman Jada Hart, the NCAA Tournament is a new experience.
“I’m really excited because I know it’s going to get really loud and really crazy because everyone wants to win,” Hart said.
The atmosphere is familiar for juniors Terri Fleming and Kristin Wiley, who helped UCLA reach the NCAA finals as freshmen.
Fleming said it all comes down to energy.
“Anything can happen because it is one and done,” Fleming said. “Everyone is going to come out ready to play. The team with the most positive energy and the most fight is the team that’s going to win.”
Along with energy, playing well in doubles is also crucial, Fleming added.
UCLA had won 11 doubles points in a row before losing the point in the Pac-12 Championships.
Starting strong in doubles, as well as minimizing errors, will be key in the matches this weekend, according to Fleming and Hart.
“Our team is so solid,” Fleming said. “So if we’re playing well, putting away points and doing what we know how to do, I don’t think we can lose.”
In February, the Bruins rolled to a 4-0 victory against the Gauchos.
However, the Gauchos will bring a challenge, having won their last 10 matches and the Big West tournament title.
Palina Dubavets leads UCSB, playing No. 1 in singles and doubles with a combined record of 25-16. Stefani Stojic and Jaimee Gilbertson, on courts three and four in singles, have gone a combined 21-9 on their respective courts.
If the Bruins defeat the Gauchos, they face the winner of Long Island University Brooklyn and No. 12 Pepperdine’s match. UCLA fell to Pepperdine 5-2 in February.
Coming out with wins against their first two opponents will advance the Bruins to the round of 16 in Athens, Georgia.
“I want these girls to experience Athens,” Sampras Webster said. “I want them to see what it’s like. It’s a special feeling. But it’s going to take us playing extremely well to get there.”