Over the course of this season, the Bruins have constantly been switching surfaces from outdoors to indoors.
The No. 13 UCLA women’s tennis team (3-0) will take on Saint Mary’s (0-2) on Friday afternoon at the Los Angeles Tennis Center before heading off to Madison, Wisconsin, for the ITA Division I National Women’s Team Indoor Championship.
“It’s kind of difficult because we’ve had to switch time zones and the weather’s been so different,” said freshman Abi Altick. “(We’ve) been a little tired, but I think we’re handling it pretty well.”
The Bruins have had to adjust to indoor courts on the fly after practicing on outdoor courts all season.
Yet, coach Stella Sampras Webster said she believes that the team is more suited for the indoor surfaces.
“Many of our players have big serves,” Sampras Webster said. “They’re also very aggressive and hit through the ball so it goes through the court really quick indoors.”
The first player she noted when asked about the team’s biggest servers was No. 16 sophomore Ena Shibahara.
Shibahara, the preseason No. 1 player in the Oracle/ITA collegiate tennis rankings, has yet to drop a set this season in dual matches.
Shibahara said that despite having a major tournament coming up, the Bruins will not take the winless Gaels lightly.
“We’ll play our game and not think about who is on the other side,” Shibahara said. “It’s important to get used to the dual match feeling and build momentum to segue into the indoor championships.”
Shibahara attributed part of their early-season success to the extra depth on the roster, which she said has rejuvenated practices.
“Practices last year were a bit repetitive, because we were playing the same players over and over,” Shibahara said. “Now that we have more depth, practices are better.”
The addition of new members – junior transfer Ayan Broomfield and freshmen Altick and Sophie Bendetti – combined with the retention of all of last year’s players has given UCLA a luxury few other teams possess: a ranked player at the sixth slot in the singles lineup.
No. 76 junior Alaina Miller, who played singles primarily on court four with stints on court two and three, played and clinched the match at court six in UCLA’s last match, a 4-3 win against Northwestern.
“It’s huge knowing that she’s our No. 6,” Sampras Webster said. “She should win every match that she plays. Teams with this kind of depth are the ones that do extremely well at (the) NCAAs.”
Despite starting off their first three meets undefeated, the Bruins have dropped the doubles point in two games.
The combination of redshirt sophomore Jada Hart and Shibahara has started off the season 0-2. The same pair captured the U.S. Open’s girls’ doubles crown in September 2016.
Shibahara went 11-1 with senior Kristin Wiley on court three last year and also has experience playing with junior Gabby Andrews.
“We’re certainly not set with any combination right now,” Sampras Webster said. “It’s a process and we’ll learn a lot more in Madison.”