It is that time of the year – win and advance.
No. 13 UCLA women’s tennis (18-4, 9-1 Pac-12) will travel to Ojai, California, to take on the winner of the Oregon (14-8, 5-5) and Utah (10-13, 1-9) match Thursday in the Pac-12 championships. The tournament begins Wednesday, but the No. 2-seeded Bruins were one of five teams to receive a bye to the quarterfinals.
“It’s a single elimination tournament so we’ve got to be ready to go from the beginning and be ready to compete,” said coach Stella Sampras Webster. “We’ve been playing better as a team and that’s really encouraging.”
The Bruins are riding a nine-game winning streak heading into the tournament. Last year, the team entered the tournament on a two-game losing run and promptly bowed out to Oregon in the quarterfinals in a close 3-4 encounter.
In the regular season this year, the Bruins swept the Ducks 4-0 without dropping a single set in matches that finished.
The Bruins eked out a 4-3 victory against the Utes in early April. The match was the only time UCLA has dropped the doubles point in its last 17 tilts. Sampras Webster cited the conditions – playing at a higher altitude in Utah’s indoor facility – as a major factor for the scare.
“We had a hard time adjusting and I don’t think we were expecting the match to be so difficult,” Sampras Webster said. “We probably should have come in a day earlier to get used to the conditions.”
If UCLA wins its quarterfinal contest, it will face either USC (12-9, 5-5), Arizona or Arizona State. The Bruins have garnered 4-0 whitewashes against each of these three teams in the regular season.
A vital component of the Bruins’ regular season success has been its doubles excellence. On court two, junior Ayan Broomfield spent time playing alongside junior Gabby Andrews and freshman Abi Altick.
“In the beginning of the season, I played with (Andrews), then I played with (Altick) a little bit and now I’m back with (Andrews),” Broomfield said. “I’m comfortable with both of them. It’s great that our team has depth and flexibility.”
Broomfield is 7-2 in dual matches with Andrews and 4-3 with Altick. Broomfield has played the last four doubles matches with Andrews on court two. Sampras Webster said she’s not going to make any changes to the doubles lineup in the tournament.
Sampras Webster has placed an emphasis on fitness this season. Their stamina will be tested during the tournament if the Bruins qualify for the finals, as they will have to play back-to-back-to-back matches.
“It’ll definitely be taxing but we cannot focus on that,” said No. 14 sophomore Ena Shibahara. “We just have to focus on the upcoming match.”
This is the second year the tournament will be played between teams rather than individual singles and doubles brackets. The winner of the Pac-12 championships will secure an automatic NCAA Tournament bid.