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Defining moments of the 2024 campaign for UCLA women’s tennis

UCLA women’s tennis stands on the courts at Marks Stadium. (Nicolas Greamo/Daily Bruin senior staff)

By Olivia Simons, Jack Nelson, Chloe Agas, and Elise Oliver

May 25, 2024 2:13 p.m.

Across the 2024 dual-match season, UCLA women’s tennis endured a series of highs and lows. From early-season adversity to top-ranked wins to a conference title, the Bruins took a journey of triumph and tragedy. The Daily Bruin women’s tennis beat makes its picks for the defining moments of UCLA’s 2024 campaign.

(Jeremy Chen/Photo editor)
Members of UCLA women’s tennis hug each other. (Jeremy Chen/Photo editor)

The Lowest of Lows
Olivia Simons
Daily Bruin senior staff

A top-10 win tumbled into one of the worst weekends score-wise in program history for the Bruins.

UCLA defeated then-No. 6 Texas by a score of 5-2 to begin its dual season, aided by several food poisoning retirements. The team then split its matchups against then-No. 3 Oklahoma State and Iowa State – losing to the former 4-3 but beating the latter 4-0 – but could not carry its two early-season wins into its indoor weekend against then-No. 17 Duke and then-No. 12 Ohio State.

The Blue Devils and Buckeyes rode into the Ty Tucker Tennis Center and swept the Bruins back-to-back, leaving then-No. 13 UCLA with a blank scoreline in consecutive matches for the first time since at least 1986.

It seemed at the time to be a harbinger for the rest of the season – lower-tier teams or teams with ill players were beatable, but strong, well-rounded teams were not.

Ohio State ended its season at No. 15 and Duke at No. 23, but neither team advanced past the second round in the NCAA championships. Either way, the losses weren’t bad just looking at the opponent, but a lack of match points sealed the deal on UCLA’s lowest low point of the year.

Fortunately, the Bruins had 19 days to rest and recover before their next dual match, and they went on to win eight straight matches in a row while making the Elite Eight in the national tournament.

UCLA will soon join the Big Ten, which includes Ohio State and a litany of indoor matches – the conditions in which the Bruins took on the Blue Devils and Buckeyes. While not every Big Ten opponent is as formidable as Ohio State, UCLA will have its work cut out for it adjusting to new environments and opponents come 2025.

(Jeremy Chen/Photo editor)
Junior Kimmi Hance pumps her fist. (Jeremy Chen/Photo editor)

Fabulous on The Farm
Jack Nelson
Daily Bruin senior staff

It’s a sweet taste, savored only by those who earn it.

Defeating Stanford just means more. The fact might as well be universal in the collegiate women’s tennis landscape, but Pac-12 members know best.

Recognized as the sport’s most legendary program, the Cardinal hold 20 NCAA titles – 46.5% of all national team championships ever awarded. They’re 560-63 under their current head coach of 24 years, Lele Forood.

The Bruins, guaranteed a yearly crack at the ever-reigning rulers, lick their lips every time the opportunity appears on their calendar.

For 2024’s iteration, they entered a Northern California road trip with the fuel of eight straight wins – including a 4-0 start to Pac-12 play – but suffered a 4-3 loss to then-No. 11 California with then-No. 5 Stanford on tap for the next day. In a rapidly tightening race for the conference regular-season title, another loss would have knocked then-No. 17 UCLA out of contention for good.

Rising from the ashes of yesterday would be the season’s signature win, etched by the woman of multiple moments.

Junior Kimmi Hance first played her part in delivering the doubles point, paired with sophomore Anne-Christine Lutkemeyer for a decisive tiebreaker win. That early 1-0 advantage tripled thanks to Lutkemeyer and sophomore Tian Fangran with their respective victories in singles play.

But sweeps of Stanford are a luxury few can afford. The Cardinal roared back to life with three consecutive points of their own, leaving Hance and then-No. 13 Connie Ma as arbiters of the outcome. The Bruin twice clung to the ledge, fighting off a pair of match points, but claimed the day’s crown in a three-setter, enduring tiebreakers in each of the final two frames.

Empires dread heroes, and Hance struck fear with not one – but two – crucial blows.

Following consecutive laborious affairs, she enjoyed fruits in the form of celebration.

(Nicolas Greamo/Daily Bruin senior staff)
UCLA women’s tennis poses for a photo after winning the Pac-12 regular-season title. (Nicolas Greamo/Daily Bruin senior staff)

Conference Sonata
Chloe Agas
Daily Bruin contributor

Superstitions vary among athletes.

For UCLA women’s tennis, this consists of finding a rhythm through song.

On its way to Marks Stadium this year, the team banned Rihanna.

Rihanna’s music was on the playlist as the team headed to the red courts for the Pac-12 championship two years prior. But on its way across town, UCLA fell to then-No. 19 USC in 4-3 fashion.

This year, it was time to create a new playlist. And the Bruins hit all of the right notes.

The Bruins were 9-1 in conference play and headed into the match with a chance to win the regular-season title.

The interlude was pieced together as Tian and junior Elise Wagle clinched the doubles point to end the first measure of the winning piece 6-2. A scale of highs and lows dictated the following measures: Two Bruins climbed, and two fell.

One by one, each Bruin was instrumental to the orchestra, creating a harmonious composition on the court. It all tied together with a solo played by Wagle over the Trojans’ Eryn Cayetano for the grand finale, as applause and cheers filled the audience.

(Olivia Simons/Daily Bruin senior staff)
UCLA women’s tennis stands in a line on the court. (Olivia Simons/Daily Bruin senior staff)

A Tennessee Tragedy
Elise Oliver
Daily Bruin contributor

Like a high-speed train, the Bruins surged through the first three rounds of the NCAA women’s tennis championship.

They swept an unseeded San Diego State and unseeded Texas Tech and proceeded to concede just one point to No. 9 seed Texas as they concluded their last home game – ending the season with a perfect 13-0 record at the Los Angeles Tennis Center.

But entering the Elite Eight, UCLA’s momentum slowed to a halt, its steam spent and energy exhausted.

Facing No. 16 seed Tennessee in Stillwater, Oklahoma, the Bruins faced a demanding performance in doubles play. After freshman Ahmani Guichard and redshirt senior Sasha Vagramov dropped their match 6-4, the Bruins clawed their way back in two tiebreakers. Hance and Lutkemeyer won their 10th straight doubles match. And Tian and Wagle followed with their ninth consecutive tandem victory – collecting the doubles point for the Bruins.

The Lady Volunteers soon tied the score, but UCLA quickly reached a 3-1 lead with wins by underclassmen Lutkemeyer and Guichard on the bottom two courts, the latter being the first of four matches brought to three sets.

Just one win in the remaining three matches would have sent the Bruins to the Final Four. But the momentum was all but gone.

After dropping her first set, Hance rebounded with a 6-1 win in the second before falling 7-5 in the third. And the Bruins’ lead vanished completely as Wagle was taken down in a similar manner in three sets.

With that, all eyes were on Tian on the top court. At that point, not all hope was lost – Tian had won the first set 6-4. But the weight of the team’s hopes proved to be too much to handle. Tennessee’s Sofia Cabezas took the second set 7-6(4) before clinching the win in the third set for Tennessee.

Up 3-1 in the match, victory seemed inevitable, but the Bruins watched their lead slip away, ending their NCAA run in an upset very few expected.

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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.
Jack Nelson | Sports senior staff
Nelson is currently a Sports senior staff writer. He was previously an assistant Sports editor on the softball, men's tennis and women's tennis beats and a contributor on the men's tennis and women's tennis beats.
Nelson is currently a Sports senior staff writer. He was previously an assistant Sports editor on the softball, men's tennis and women's tennis beats and a contributor on the men's tennis and women's tennis beats.
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