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Ending regular season, UCLA women’s tennis wins thriller over USC

Kimmi Hance gets a hug from sophomore Elise Wagle while celebrating with her team. The sophomore for UCLA women’s tennis teamed up with Wagle to secure the doubles point for the Bruins before clinching their overall win over the Trojans with her singles victory. (Joseph Jimenez/Assistant Photo editor)

Women's Tennis

No. 19 UCLA4

By Pooja Kantemneni

April 22, 2023 6:48 p.m.

Against the backdrop of a cheering crowd and a tied score, Kimmi Hance delivered.

The No. 106 sophomore clinched the 4-3 win for No. 19 UCLA women’s tennis (13-6, 6-4 Pac-12) against USC (16-8, 6-4) on Friday at the Los Angeles Tennis Center. After starting her match with a 6-2 first-set loss, Hance stormed back and won her next two sets 6-3, 6-4 against USC’s Snow Han for her second clinch of the season.

“Your whole life as a tennis player, you have to be resilient,” Hance said. “I just took full advantage of it and tried to enjoy the moment.”

Her resilience shows in her season record. After starting the season 4-6 in dual-singles play, Hance has won six of her last seven completed contests to finish with a 10-7 record.

Coach Stella Sampras Webster said the fight Hance showed after losing her first set was a product of sticking to her guns.

“She just started playing a little better and got a little more momentum,” Sampras Webster said. “She just played her game, she knew what she wanted to do and raised her level to finish the match.”

Hance also clinched the doubles point for UCLA earlier in the day alongside fellow sophomore Elise Wagle. The No. 6-ranked pair dismantled the No. 39-ranked Trojan duo of Han and Naomi Cheong 6-3, providing a 1-0 start to the Bruins’ eventual win. Wagle added a singles victory of her own to UCLA’s effort, with a 6-3, 6-2 takedown of Cheong.

Hance said the doubles win has the duo feeling prepared for next week’s start to the postseason.

“Me and Elise have really good chemistry, and we’re definitely getting better after each match,” Hance said. “We have a lot of confidence, and we’re ready to go into Pac-12s.”

Ava Catanzarite provided UCLA’s first loss of the day, falling 6-0, 6-2 to Emma Charney. The sophomore was ranked No. 42 in the ITA singles rankings in January and began the regular season on a four-match winning streak, defeating two ranked opponents in the stretch. However, Catanzarite would go on to win only three of her remaining 14 matches, ending the season unranked and with a 7-9 dual-singles record.

Ending the regular season on a high note was Fangran Tian. The No. 17 freshman defeated No. 8 Madison Sieg in straight sets for her 15th victory of the season. She remains the only undefeated Bruin to have taken down top-20 opponents on four occasions.

Tian said she’s been grateful for the encouragement she’s received from her teammates throughout the season.

“I was so happy I could do something for the team,” Tian said. “I win because everybody supports me, not only because of my own strength.”

After a season of ups and downs, Sampras Webster expressed the importance of staying patient.

“We knew this team was going to grow and improve a lot from the beginning of January to where we are now. We have talented players,” Sampras Webster said. “We just focused on what we needed to do and things we needed to work on, match after match.”

With a critical victory in its regular-season finale, UCLA now stands in fifth place in the conference and is in position for a first-round bye in next week’s Pac-12 tournament. The Bruins sat sixth going into the rivalry match and with a loss, would have missed out on a chance for the bye.

Tian said the Bruins are ready for the challenge as they head into the postseason.

“We’re going to fight for every single point,” Tian said. “We got each other’s backs. We’re doing this as a team.”

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Pooja Kantemneni
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