Last year the Bruins’ hopes of a national title stayed afloat until the second round of the NCAA Tournament, when they were crushed by the Pepperdine Waves.
No. 14 UCLA women’s tennis (16-4, 8-1 Pac-12) will have a shot at redemption against No. 10 Pepperdine (18-1, 7-0 West Coast Conference) in its penultimate match of the regular season Wednesday.
“There’s a lot of redemption – I’m definitely seeking it,” said No. 35 redshirt sophomore Jada Hart. “I think we’re in a much better position to actually beat them this year.”
The Bruins have held their opponents scoreless in six of their last seven conference matches. Junior Ayan Broomfield said the team’s mentality is at its peak.
“There’s a good morale on the team; everyone’s pretty confident in each other,” Broomfield said. “I think that having some positive momentum will help us play this tougher team.”
UCLA has suffered three of its four losses to teams ranked within the top 20 and has yet to defeat a top-10 team this season. In their only chance to do so, the Bruins fell to then-No. 8 Texas Tech in February.
Coach Stella Sampras Webster said Pepperdine’s higher ranking is a chance for her team to step up and make a statement.
“I think the motivation this year for Pepperdine is opportunity,” Sampras Webster said. “There isn’t as much pressure as in other matches where teams are gunning after us. It’s a great opportunity for us to go after it and beat a team that’s ranked higher than we are.”
The Bruins have been working on their fitness, with the goal of being able to stay in points longer. Hart said she is familiar with the Waves’ tendency of unrelenting returns and believes the extra conditioning will be an asset against Pepperdine.
“I’m very familiar with all the girls on the team and how their styles are – I’ve played at least half of them,” Hart said. “I need to be aware of being patient, staying in points longer because Pepperdine can always get one more ball back; they’re just that solid.”
With only two matches left before the Pac-12 Tournament, UCLA is ranked second in the conference – one match behind Stanford.
A win against Pepperdine would give the Bruins a 6-4 record against ranked teams, which would be an advantage heading into the postseason.
“We obviously want to host NCAAs, and I think a win would give us a chance to do that,” Sampras Webster said.
Once again, the Waves will play a role in the Bruins’ postseason fate.