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Team growth gives UCLA women’s tennis high hopes for Iowa State rematch

Kimmi Hance hits a forehand. The sophomore for UCLA women’s tennis has won five completed dual-singles matches in a row, including both of her contests at the first and second rounds of the NCAA tournament. (Julia Zhou/Daily Bruin)

Women's Tennis

No. 11 seed Iowa State
Friday, 11 a.m.

Ames High Tennis Complex
Iowa State Live Stream

By Alexsia Drulias

May 11, 2023 3:59 p.m.

A feeling of deja vu is on the horizon. But this time, with hopes for a different ending.

UCLA women’s tennis (15-7, 6-4 Pac-12) ventures to Ames, Iowa, to compete against No. 11 seed Iowa State (20-5, 7-2 Big 12) on Friday in the super regionals of the NCAA tournament. The Bruins are one of just two unseeded teams to reach the Sweet 16.

Being the underdog hasn’t meant much to UCLA, as it’s coming off a win against No. 6 seed Duke. But the matchup against the Cyclones will call for another upset.

Senior Sasha Vagramov was the back-to-back clincher for both matchups that got the Bruins to the third round. Before the match, Vagramov told her teammates that fearlessness and belief are two traits that can – and eventually did – carry them through a high-pressure weekend.

“It just comes down to the fight and the belief, and I think that’s what we really did at Duke,” Vagramov said. “Go out and believe in yourself because if you don’t believe in yourself, no one will.”

Coach Stella Sampras Webster acknowledged how much the team has grown through the season. Just looking at the matchup against Duke from this past weekend, Sampras Webster saw how her players were able to change their future before it was too late.

“This team just never gave up,” Sampras Webster said. “The momentum wasn’t looking good after the doubles, and (in) college tennis, there’s so many things that can happen. It was just kind of a roller coaster. We just hung in there, hoping to get an opportunity to change it around, and it did.”

The change that the team is now confronted with is the prospect of tying up its record with Iowa State. The Bruins and Cyclones met in January when a win slipped away from UCLA. Even after dropping the doubles point and losing two of the first three singles points, Iowa State won the remainder of the singles matches and walked away with a 4-3 win.

That is precisely why the Bruins are hungry to not only get revenge but to also bring the Cyclones’ season to a close in their own home.

Sophomore Kimmi Hance said she’s a completely different player than when she lost to Iowa State’s Ange Oby Kajuru over three months ago. After winning eight of her last nine completed singles matches, she’s assured that both she and the team have seen major improvements.

“I’m feeling pretty good going into it, not just for myself, but the whole team,” Hance said. “I feel 100% confident that everyone’s going to do their job.”

Hance’s confidence in her teammates isn’t based on wishful thinking – even Sampras Webster acknowledged that the Bruins’ level of play is at a season high.

“Everyone is playing probably some of their best tennis all year, so it’s all you can really ask for that people are in a good place mentally and physically,” Sampras Webster said. “Keep them focused on the right things and just keep it really simple.”

The Bruins will be confronted with familiar faces Friday, but if the team wants to keep moving in the direction of an NCAA title, revenge must be dealt.

Still, Vagramov and her teammates have no interest in looking to the past to inform their approach this time around.

“Obviously, we’re looking to get some good revenge this weekend, but it is a completely different point in the season,” Vagramov said. “There’s no point in comparing ourselves to that match at all and I think we’re all looking to keep the good energy rolling.”

First serve between UCLA and Iowa State is set for 11 a.m. on Friday.

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Alexsia Drulias
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