New season, new faces.
No. 8 UCLA women’s tennis will open its season against Minnesota on Saturday at Los Angeles Tennis Center during the ITA Kick-Off Weekend. UCLA will play either Florida International or Loyola Marymount on Sunday.
“Everyone’s just excited to get the regular season started,” said coach Stella Sampras Webster. “(They’re) just trying to get into the mindset of playing for the team.”
Three freshmen – No. 11 Elysia Bolton, Taylor Johnson and Katie LaFrance – joined UCLA. They will have big roles to fill due to the departure of former players Ena Shibahara to the pro circuit and Terri Fleming and Kristin Wiley to graduation.
Shibahara, the reigning Pac-12 Singles Player of the Year, posted a 27-10 record in singles and a 28-4 mark in doubles. She has been a mainstay on UCLA’s top singles court for the past two years.
Fleming secured a 16-14 singles record and 20-13 doubles record.
“The freshmen are holding their own,” said senior Gabby Andrews. “They fit right in. All of them are getting along really well.”
Bolton had a successful fall season, defeating two ranked players en route to the quarterfinals of the Oracle ITA National Fall Championships. The former blue-chip prospect is 10-5 on the season. She made a run last weekend to the the semifinals of the Freeman Memorial Championships in doubles with redshirt junior Jada Hart, but had to forfeit due to precautionary measures taken regarding Hart’s lingering hamstring injury.
“We’ve both got really big serves,” Hart said. “We prefer for her to be at the net, but we’re both comfortable in either position.”
Hart will be back in the lineup this weekend.
“We’ve got three seniors, and they really want to do great,” Sampras Webster said. “They’re leading the team, especially the freshmen, to do the right things.”
Two of them – Andrews and senior Ayan Broomfield – formed UCLA’s second court doubles team last year. The nationally ranked No. 6 doubles pair went 12-5 overall last season, including 5-2 in ranked matchups.
The Minnesota Gophers logged a 14-12 record last season and failed to qualify for the postseason. Comparatively, UCLA notched a 23-6 overall record and were bounced out by Georgia Tech 4-3 in the NCAA quarterfinals. The FIU Panthers and LMU Lions went 17-3 and 17-6 last year, respectively. The Bruins have won all 24 matchups against the Lions.
“(We’re) looking forward to a great season,” Sampras Webster said. “We have a lot of travel in store for us this quarter and a lot of great opportunities for the players.”