Last spring, Cal women’s tennis was at the top of its game. The team featured in the nation’s top 5 in the No. 4 slot, won the regular season Pac-12 Championship and went 18-8 on the season with an 8-1 conference record.
This year, the team might be facing a bit of déjà vu — and rightly so. Starting out the season in a solid No. 12 spot in the country, the Bears are gearing up for their first two dual matches of the year.
In what might feel slightly like Groundhog Day, Cal will take on UC Santa Barbara and Pepperdine both exactly a year on, respectively, from their last January meetings.
UC Santa Barbara and Pepperdine are both strong teams, with the latter standing in the No. 10 spot in national rankings. This year, though, the Bears get to take them on at home, an important change and one relished by the coaching staff.
“Obviously, we’ve got a pretty good record on our home courts,” said head coach Amanda Augustus of her Bears, who went 10-1 at home last year. “We’re home for the next three weekends here, so a really good opportunity for us to do what we need to do and get extra work in where we need to.”
Cal will face UCSB first, Jan. 21. In their first outing of the spring season, one that was muddled with rain delays and cancellations, the Bears’ Saturday opponents were able to notch six singles wins and three doubles wins.
When the two teams last met, Cal was able to get an easy 6-1 win against Santa Barbara, dropping the doubles point but winning all of the day’s singles matches. The Bears have also won their past five — and only — dual matches against the Gauchos.
Cal saw a weaker start last year in doubles; a doubles point loss was not out of the ordinary at this point in last year’s season. This year, though, the team is coming into the season with what Augustus referred to as “establishment teams” — and a full shutout is not out of the question.
While Cal has had a strong record against Santa Barbara, Pepperdine has proven to be a tougher competitor. Cal’s Southern Californian rival (outside of its conference opponents in USC and UCLA) is a longstanding occupant of the national top 10, and will play Cal on Sunday.
“We’re really lucky here out west in that we have other top-10 programs that we can compete against. They’re one of the teams that we like to play,” Augustus said of Pepperdine. “We have kind of a nice rivalry, we play home and away. I think playing against top-level competition is what you need to be at the top.”
Since January of last year, Cal has faced the Waves three times, with mixed results. When the two met a year ago, the Bears had a huge win against a then-No. 2 Pepperdine team when Katja Wiersholm clinched with a 7-5, 7-5 match after the two teams stood at three points apiece.
The Waves took the win the next time the two met, in the quarterfinals of the ITA National Team Indoor Championship, but fell again when the teams played on the blue and gold home turf in March, once again with a 3-4 score.
The coaching staff is feeling confident, especially given its recent addition of Berta Passola Folch to the Bears’ roster. Her initiation into the team is not unlike that of Wiersholm, this time last year.
“She’s off to a great start, she knows a lot of the girls already — a lot of them got to know each other last summer, before she came,” Augustus said. “She’s doing great, and we’re excited. It’s similar to how (Wiersholm) came in mid-last year and did fantastic, I think (Passola Folch) is equally ready to go.”
After the annual Cal Winter Invitational was canceled due to poor weather last weekend, this will be the Bears’ first home stint of the year. It is crucial at this point in the season to hit the ground running and gain momentum for conference dual matches and Indoor Nationals.