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UCLA women’s tennis beats USC to take final Pac-12 regular season title

UCLA women’s tennis poses for a photo while holding the Pac-12 Champions banner. The Bruins took down the Trojans to win the last-ever Pac-12 regular season title. (Nicolas Greamo/Daily Bruin senior staff)

By Olivia Simons

April 20, 2024 12:35 p.m.

This post was updated April 21 at 9:49 p.m.

Juniors Elise Wagle and Kimmi Hance banned songs by Rihanna from their playlist on the way to USC.

The singer reminded the upperclassmen of two years prior at Marks Stadium – when a 4-3 defeat marked the end of the Bruins’ regular-season conference championship run.

This year, the Bruins chose a new playlist on their way to take on the Trojans and found fate to be on their side.

No. 10 UCLA women’s tennis (17-4, 9-1 Pac-12) took down No. 11 USC (17-7, 8-2) at Marks Stadium on Friday, clinching the outright Pac-12 regular-season championship where it lost its chance at the title two years prior. In 2022, the Trojans defeated the Bruins in their last match of the regular season and took away UCLA’s chance at a regular-season championship.

Wagle, the clincher of the Bruins’ 4-2 win Friday, said in order to ensure victory this time around, a different playlist and mindset was needed.

“Kimmi and I were just so locked in with each other,” Wagle said. “We were telling the other girls this is what happened freshman year. We are not doing this again. We are not having the same routines at all. Kimmi, … on our way here, she was like, ‘We’re not listening to this song. We’re not listening to this song, that’s why we lost.’”

The change in playlist accompanied a change in doubles Friday. USC claimed the doubles match in the 2022 rivalry match at Marks Stadium, with only two players who competed for the Bruins then playing in the match Friday in Wagle and Hance. This year, Wagle and Hance both notched doubles wins, with Wagle and her partner, sophomore Tian Fangran, clinching the first match point against the Trojans.

Wagle fell in both doubles and singles two years ago and said she felt personally responsible for the Bruins’ loss. This year, she clinched both the doubles and singles wins for UCLA but had to work her way back from a first-set loss in singles as three other teammates dropped their first sets.

(Nicolas Greamo/Daily Bruin senior staff)
Junior Elise Wagle races to the net to hit a forehand. (Nicolas Greamo/Daily Bruin senior staff)

Freshman Bianca Fernandez could not hold on for a third set, and her loss evened the match score 1-1, but Tian notched her 14th win and 12th straight-set singles win of the season to give UCLA the advantage yet again. Freshman Ahmani Guichard followed Tian’s win with a straight-set victory of her own.

Fernandez and Guichard played at USC for the first time Friday, entering the match without the prior experiences or playlist superstitions of Hance and Wagle. Guichard said her junior teammates informed the team of what had happened two years prior and their desire for revenge. The freshman’s first time playing at Marks Stadium also featured a significantly larger audience than the Bruins’ typical crowd.

“To be honest, I love the energy,” Guichard said. “Whoever won the point, we got some cheer. So I thought it was really cool, and it’s a lot of motivation.”

The energy carried throughout the over three-hour contest as the three remaining courts reached third sets. Hance, Wagle and sophomore Anne-Christine Lutkemeyer entered their third sets with UCLA up 3-1, knowing only one of the three courts had to win to clinch the overall victory. Hance delivered a loss first, allowing her opponent, No. 34 Emma Charney, to grab three games in a row for a 6-3 win.

With Lutkemeyer and McKenna Koenig still in the early stages of their set at the opposite end of USC’s courts, Wagle got to work taking down No. 79 Eryn Cayetano. Wagle said she appreciated that she was not the last player standing during her match as the lively crowd would show loud support for Cayetano, graduate student and longtime Trojan.

“Eryn’s a crowd favorite. Everyone loves Eryn, everyone respects her,” Wagle said. “If it came down to 3-all, I was not going to have a lot of people on my side.”

It took 12 games, but Wagle eventually won the third set against Cayetano and clinched the Pac-12 championship. While her win concluded the match, she said she had just been lucky to be the last Bruin to win and that equal credit is due to Tian and Guichard for their singles wins.

Coach Stella Sampras Webster said she was particularly happy for Wagle to clinch the win Friday as well as in UCLA’s 4-3 win over Pepperdine the week prior because Wagle typically does not play the role of clincher for the team.

“You would have told me the beginning of the season that she was going to be the one to clinch these matches, I would have been happy of course, but it’s really neat to see her do it. … She’s no drama, and she’s competed really well,” Sampras Webster said.

While Rihanna might remain banned on the team’s commute to USC going forward, the Bruins already had a list of celebratory tunes lined up to celebrate their win, including “Fireball” by Pitbull and “We Are The Champions” by Queen. The soundtrack complemented the hats, t-shirts and trophies used to celebrate their conference victory, the last time there will ever be a Pac-12 regular-season champion.

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Olivia Simons | Quad editor
Simons was the 2023-2024 Quad editor and a Sports senior staffer on the women's tennis beat. She was previously the 2022-2023 managing editor, an assistant Sports editor on the baseball, women's tennis, men's tennis, swim and dive and rowing beats and a reporter on the baseball and women's tennis beats.
Simons was the 2023-2024 Quad editor and a Sports senior staffer on the women's tennis beat. She was previously the 2022-2023 managing editor, an assistant Sports editor on the baseball, women's tennis, men's tennis, swim and dive and rowing beats and a reporter on the baseball and women's tennis beats.
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