Women’s tennis starts tournament play, looks to defend undefeated conference record
No. 1 seed UCLA women’s tennis has faced No. 2 seed Stanford in the last round of each of the last two Pac-12 championships and has an opportunity to produce the same matchup in the finals this year. (Andy Bao/Daily Bruin staff)
Barnes Tennis Center
No TV info/Pac-12 Networks
By Jon Christon
April 24, 2021 9:45 a.m.
While they were the conference victors in the regular season, the Bruins still have one more step to go before calling themselves the conference champions.
As the top seed with a first-round bye, No. 1 seed UCLA women’s tennis (17-3, 10-0 Pac-12) won’t get the tournament started until Saturday when it will take on No. 8 seed Washington State (14-15, 4-6) in the second round of the Pac-12 championships in San Diego. The Cougars coming off a 4-0 win over No. 9 seed Colorado on Friday in the first match of the tournament.
Should the Bruins advance, they will take on the winner of No. 4 Arizona State and No. 5 USC on Sunday before potentially advancing to the championship Monday.
Coach Stella Sampras Webster said being the tournament’s top-ranked team could actually be at the Bruins’ detriment, especially when considering the strength of the conference top to bottom.
“Every team is strong, (you) can’t take anyone lightly ’cause everyone’s gunning for us because we’re the No. 1 seed,” Sampras Webster said. “We can’t look at what happened in the regular season, we just have to take care of ourselves and compete very well and play free.”
In the regular season, UCLA was undefeated in Pac-12 play, going a perfect 10-0 en route to its first outright regular-season conference crown in program history.
The Bruins faced the Cougars just once during that span, beating Washington State 6-1 in Pullman on March 5. In the match, UCLA followed up winning the doubles point by winning all but two of its singles matches in straight sets, including a 6-2, 6-2 win for sophomore Sasha Vagramov.
Vagramov said her past success against the Cougars isn’t any indication for the future.
“I would say we kind of have the same mindset approaching every match – we don’t really think too much about past outcomes, whether we won or lost,” Vagramov said. “I think every match, we approach with kind of the mindset of taking it one day at a time and treating every opponent with a really high level of respect and expecting every match to be tough.”
The last time the Pac-12 championships were held – back in 2019 – the Bruins advanced all the way to the championship game as the conference’s No. 2 seed before falling to then-No. 1 seed Stanford.
The year before that, nearly the exact same result occurred, with the then-No. 2 seed Bruins again falling to the then-No. 1 seed Cardinal in the tournament’s last game.
This time around, the roles will be reversed if both UCLA and Stanford the Bruins and Cardinal advance to the final game, as this time the Bruins will be the higher seed. Graduate student Jada Hart – one of only two players to compete in both of those tournaments that are still on the roster – said she is looking forward to the looming matchup against Stanford, but the games before it are still at the top of her mind.
“Even though Stanford’s No. 2, they are still a great team – you can never underestimate their abilities,” Hart said. “We’re always looking up against that matchup but we first have to take care of the first round on Saturday before we can even get there.”
While Hart has been a part of four Pac-12 tournaments in her six years with the program, four players on the roster have yet to be a part in such event, including Vagramov and No. 8 ranked singles player sophomore Abbey Forbes.
After her freshman season was cut short, Vagramov said her first conference tournament will be something to remember.
“I am super excited for this tournament,” Vagramov said. “I’ve been looking forward to it for a long time. This time last year, I was sitting at home in Canada in quarantining wishing I was out in sunny LA with the team. So my mindset is just really focused on the present and being really grateful that we’re in this position.”