Though the Cal women’s tennis team’s Pac-12 tournament victory and five-match win streak heading into the third round of the NCAA championships seemed to foreshadow a fairy tale run for the blue and gold, their title hopes were put out by No. 1 North Carolina last weekend. The Tar Heels downed the Bears 4-0 on Sunday night at the USTA National Tennis Center in Orlando, bringing Cal’s memorable and highly successful season to a close.
Progressing past the Tar Heels promised to be a daunting task for the Bears. North Carolina entered the postseason boasting a regular-season resume that included 26 consecutive wins, an ACC Championship and an ITA Indoor Team title. The team’s championship pedigree became quickly evident in the doubles point.
Each of the three doubles matches was rather close in its early stages. Specifically, Haley Giavara and Valentina Ivanov squandered game points which would have given them a 3-2 lead and later missed opportunities to even the match at three games apiece. The No. 2 North Carolina duo of Sara Daavettila and Cameron Morra played more soundly from a tactical perspective in each of these moments and soon after distanced themselves from Giavara and Ivanov in the scoreline.
Matches on the second and third courts unfolded in a similar fashion, with the Tar Heels withstanding early pressure from the Bears and ultimately winning by wide margins.
North Carolina’s ability to hold its ground in potentially complicated stages of matches continued to serve them well throughout singles play. No. 2 Daavettila and No. 36 Fiona Crawley each weathered late surges from Cal’s Giavara and Hannah Viller Moeller, respectively, to stretch the Tar Heels’ lead to 3-0. No. 97 Elizabeth Scotty would go on to secure North Carolina’s spot in the Elite 8 after rallying to a 7-5 victory in the second set against Jada Bui on the fourth court.
When play on the remaining courts was abandoned, the Bears still had fighting chances in each of the unfinished matches; Ivanov was in the early stages of a deciding third set, and both Julia Rosenqvist and Anna Bright were entrenched in close second sets after both dropping their first set.
Cal head coach Amanda Augustus emphasized the role she felt experience played in the Tar Heels’ ability to withstand the threats posed by Bears, and conversely, Cal’s inability to execute in some potentially decisive moments.
“I think they were just a little more experienced than we were in this situation,” Augustus said. “Some of (North Carolina’s) players have been on the team for five years now.”
Despite the disappointment that the result certainly presents for the blue and gold, the team’s spirits after the match seemed to suggest that they viewed the moment more as a chance to reflect on their extraordinary accomplishments this season. Though it was nearly 11 p.m. in Orlando, Giavara’s voice lit up when asked about the team’s performance this season.
“I am so proud of our team overall,” Giavara said. “Every single player contributes to what we do on the court. To get where we’ve gotten is incredible.”
Further, with all but Bright returning to the squad next year, the team’s best tennis seems to be ahead of it.
“Both of (North Carolina’s) coaches came up to me and said we’re the toughest team they’ve played against all season,” Augustus said. “I’m excited because I think this group is just scratching the surface of what they can do.”
Although the loss marks the end of the season for Cal, Giavara will still compete individually in the NCAA singles tournament and pair with Ivanov in the doubles tournament. Ranked 31st in the latest ITA singles rankings, Giavara earned an at-large spot in the 64-person tournament, which will take place at the USTA National Tennis Center following the conclusion of the team tournament.