For 15 straight years, UCLA women’s tennis advanced to the round of 16 in the NCAA Tournament.
But for the past two seasons, it has fallen just short.
“We want to get back to where we’re used to,” said coach Stella Sampras Webster. “We’ve got a good core of players that I believe really want it, and it’s just getting everyone else to follow and know that it takes more outside of just team practice.”
The 2017 season was a year of streaks for the No. 23 Bruins (14-9, 7-3 Pac-12), as they won several games in a row and then lost a few.
With only six players in the lineup, there was pressure to stay healthy, Sampras Webster said, to ensure everyone would be ready to play every match.
As next season approaches, UCLA will not lose any players on the lineup and will take on two new additions in Helen Altick and Caroline Dolehide, both five-star recruits, giving the Bruins the No. 2 recruiting class for 2017.
“We’re going to get two new players, so that will add more depth,” Sampras Webster said. “I think that was lacking this year and hurt us.”
This was also a year of young talent for the Bruins. Freshman Ena Shibahara and redshirt freshman Jada Hart finished with a combined 56-16 record in singles.
Shibahara finished 9-1 in her last 10 singles matches and was named Pac-12 Singles Player of the Year and Newcomer/Freshman of the Year, the first player in Pac-12 history to earn both honors in the same season.
“Hopefully, next season, I can mature more when I play in the matches and be more efficient,” Shibahara said. “(I want to) use all of the shots that I practice and be able to execute better.”
Shibahara and Hart competed in doubles in the beginning of the season, coming out with a 14-4 overall record and qualifying for the NCAA doubles championship.
Hart paired with junior Terri Fleming in the latter half of the season. With a 13-3 overall record, the duo earned the honor of Pac-12 Doubles Team of the Year.
“I think the biggest difference for me going into next season will be the mental aspect,” Hart said. “Even though I do well competing and fighting hard for the team, I need to be able to handle my emotions and energy better.”
Reaching as high as a No. 9 ranking, the Bruins showed potential to compete against the toughest teams, beating No. 17 Kentucky and No. 13 California and only losing 4-3 to No. 16 Baylor and No. 6 Stanford.
With next year being the final season for juniors Fleming and Kristin Wiley, Shibahara and Hart said there is greater motivation to go the distance.
“We’re still going to have the same team vibe as we did this year,” Hart said. “Even though things didn’t go our way this year, I think we’re going to rebound going into next season and be much hungrier.”