The UCLA women’s tennis team will do something it hasn’t done since 2015: compete in the ITA Division I National Women’s Team Indoor Championship.
With No. 93 junior Alaina Miller’s third set win two weeks ago in Kentucky, the No. 13 Bruins (4-0) qualified for the indoor championships. This weekend, the team heads to Madison, Wisconsin, along with 14 other top-25 teams.
“We didn’t get to go last year either; we had another rough loss, so this is my first time going to indoors,” Miller said. “I’m super excited and I’m ready for the new experience.”
Coach Stella Sampras Webster sees the experience as a challenge that will show what her team can do on a national scale.
“These teams are going to fight. … It’s just making sure that we’re mentally prepared to battle and that we expect the worst,” she said. “We’ll just find out a lot about our team.”
In addition to the intense environment, the Bruins will have to get used to the indoor courts. UCLA practiced playing from the baseline and shortening its back swings in order to adjust to the faster speed of play. However, Sampras Webster said the courts won’t require as big of an adjustment as the team has anticipated.
“The courts are medium to fast – they’re not super fast,” the coach said. “We don’t feel like there has to be a huge adjustment so I think the girls are really happy with the way the courts are.”
No. 12 sophomore Ena Shibahara has yet to play in a dual match this season, sitting out Friday’s match with a pulled hamstring. Shibahara plans to play this weekend, but said that her tennis is not what it was prior to her injury.
“I’m not fully 100 percent with my game,” Shibahara said. “My body feels 100 percent, but getting back into the game is a little bit more difficult coming back from being hurt. I’m hitting well; I just have to make sure that I’m using my feet and now it’s just trusting my body to move the way I used to.”
Shibahara, accustomed to playing top singles for the Bruins, said she is looking forward to potentially playing Pepperdine’s No. 27 Ashley Lahey and North Carolina’s No. 6 Alle Sanford, two players she is familiar with.
“I think Ashley Lahey on Pepperdine is really good. I haven’t seen her much; I haven’t seen her a lot this year, but I traveled with her. And also, Alle Sanford is really good,” Shibahara said. “So we’ll see how the lineups match up with us.”
Aside from her individual goals, Shibahara said the indoor championships will be a good indicator of where her team stands thus far in the season.
“I’m excited to see what type of competition is out there and see how we do against them because I think it will be a good test for us,” she said.
UCLA’s test starts Friday at 10 a.m. PST against No. 8 Texas Tech.