UCLA women’s tennis team survived against UCSB, but will be relieved to have No. 16 sophomore Ena Shibahara and No. 76 junior Alaina Miller back in the lineup after overcoming illnesses.
Starting Friday morning, No. 16 UCLA (1-0) will face North Carolina State and No. 21 Kentucky (2-0) or Northwestern (2-0) on back-to-back days in Lexington, Kentucky, at the annual Intercollegiate Tennis Association Kick-Off Weekend. The winner of the four-team bracket will play at the ITA Division I National Women’s Team Indoor Championship in Madison, Wisconsin.
With a healthy roster, UCLA is aiming to perform better than last season when it lost to Georgia Tech 4-2 in the ITA Kick-Off Weekend final. Coach Stella Sampras Webster stated that the team has set a goal of reaching the indoor championship.
The Bruins debuted No. 119 redshirt sophomore Jada Hart on court one, who amassed a 6-2, 7-5 win against the Gauchos on Jan. 19.
She filled in nicely for Shibahara, who went 18-3 on court one when she was a freshman.
“Having (Shibahara’s) energy out on court one is much needed for all of us,” Hart said.
Shibahara went 6-3 in the fall in singles and was the consolation doubles champion with Hart at the Riviera/ITA All-American Championships.
“Even though I didn’t do great result-wise, I am very happy with my fall season,” Shibahara said. “I feel a lot more confident in my game. I can always clean up my game by reducing unforced errors and increasing my first-serve percentage.”
Having key players out of the lineup forced UCLA to turn to alternative doubles combinations.
“The combinations were made just because we did not have (Shibahara) and (Miller) out there,” Sampras Webster said. “We want to figure out our best three teams. It’s a process.”
After playing only six players last season, Sampras Webster will have more choices in the lineups with the additions of two freshmen and junior transfer Ayan Broomfield.
If the No. 7 duo of Hart and Shibahara (7-1 on court one last year) pair up against North Carolina State, they will probably face a familiar foe.
The pair narrowly lost to North Carolina State’s No. 9 duo of Anna Rogers and Claudia Wiktorin 8-6 at the 2017 Riviera/ITA Women’s All-American Championships in early October.
“We, unfortunately, lost to them after having the lead,” Hart said. “It would be nice to get revenge against them.”
The Bruins have spent the last couple of days preparing for the indoor courts that they will play on in Lexington.
“We’ve been focusing a lot on short points and quick balls,” Sampras Webster said. “We are a pretty aggressive team, so I think the girls will enjoy playing indoors.”
To prepare for the nature of the indoor surface, the team has been practicing on courts that are slightly quicker and with heavier balls. A focus has been placed on not taking huge backswings with the racket as the balls come in faster.
“My transition game will be key in Kentucky,” Hart said. “It’s important that I execute much better with my volleys.”