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UCLA women’s tennis aims high at indoor tournament

By Daniel Khayat

February 11, 2010 2:54 pm

The weather outside in Madison, Wisc., may be frightful, with a reported high temperature of 24 degrees and snow flurries projected for today, but the No. 12 UCLA women’s tennis team is surely delighted that they have the opportunity to play inside for a change.

The National Team Indoor Championships begin Friday with the Bruins (5-0) taking on the No. 6 Miami Hurricanes (3-1), the same team that ended UCLA’s NCAA Tournament run in the round of 16 last season.

UCLA coach Stella Sampras Webster is looking forward to gauging where her team lies in the landscape of the nation’s elite programs and has her eyes set on a lofty goal: bringing home the NTIC trophy for the first time.

“We don’t know how other teams in the country are playing,” Sampras Webster said. “All we know is how we’re feeling and how we’re playing, and I know that our team is very hungry and very motivated to do well. Winning this tournament is definitely a reality for us.”

UCLA heads into the event with its deepest team since its 2008 national championship run. Sampras Webster has used eight different singles players and a plethora of doubles teams to amass a 5-0 record on an aggregate score of 27-1.

However, the highest ranked team the Bruins faced in their first five games was No. 36 Tulsa; by contrast, the lowest ranked team in this weekend’s tournament (with the exclusion of the automatically-qualified hosts, unranked Wisconsin) is No. 21 Florida State.

“It’ll be interesting … to see where we’re at against the top teams in the country,” Sampras Webster said. “We’re playing better teams, better players, so we’re going to be tested. We’ll get to see which players step up and which ones don’t, and it’ll be a great test for where we’re at right now.”

Playing in such a prominent event can be slightly nerve-racking for inexperienced players, but Sampras Webster is confident that Pamela Montez and Stephanie Hoffpauir, the Bruins’ two freshmen, will rise to the occasion.

“It’s going to be an eye-opening experience but I don’t think they’ll be overwhelmed,” she said. “They compete extremely hard and once the match starts I feel that they’ll be in their competitive mode.”

If the Bruins do manage to get past the Hurricanes in the first round, the two potential matchups in the second round both present interesting story lines.

If No. 3 California gets past No. 9 Georgia Tech in their opening round matchup, the Bruins and Golden Bears will meet for the first of three times tomorrow, adding another dimension to an already-heated conference rivalry. However, UCLA’s roster consists of two former Yellow Jackets ““ juniors Maya Johansson and Noelle Hickey. Hickey, in fact, played an instrumental role in Georgia Tech’s 4-3 victory over the Bruins in the consolation bracket of last year’s NTIC, winning both her doubles match and her singles match against former Bruin Ashley Joelson.

Sampras Webster wants to rid last year’s disappointing results in Madison from hers and the team’s minds, and maintains that the only way to do so would be to win the tournament.

“I think it would mean a ton to bring home a title,” she said. “It’d give the team a ton of confidence for the rest of the season, and really put us in a great spot nationally. It would help the Pac-10, it would help UCLA and it would help our players believe that all this hard work that they’re putting forth is paying off.”

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Daniel Khayat
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