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NCAA Women’s Tennis Sweet 16: Cal loses to Vanderbilt 4-1

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13th seed Golden Bears are eliminated from the team competition by No.3 Commodores.

Karla Popovic and the Golden Bears will look to knock off No.3 Vandy today
Cal Women’s Tennis Facebook

Cal Women’s Tennis saw its team season ends on Friday afternoon when they lost 4-1 to the 3rd seed Vanderbilt Commodores.

Despite a lead in the decisive 2nd court, Golden Bears lost the doubles point when Karla Popovic and Olivia Hauger lost 3 straight games to go from a 5-4 lead to a 7-5 loss. Bears had won on court 1 with Maegan Manasse and Maya Jansen winning 6-4 over the No.1 ranked doubles pair in the country.

In the singles, Bears only managed to win 2 of the 6 first sets. Graduate transfer Maya Jansen was the lone Bear to win her singles match (in two sets) with Maegan Manasse being the other Bear to win her first set. Results from court 6, court 2, and court 3 (all in 2 sets) sealed Cal’s fate.

Several Bears will play in the individual championships next week. Maegan Manasse and Karla Popovic will play in the singles bracket while Manasse and Maya Jansen will compete in the doubles as well. In the past few years, Golden Bears have made it to the championship final in either singles or doubles every year (but only to fall short).

Cal Women’s Tennis will have to wait to win program’s first NCAA team national championship, however. Bears have signed a “bright” recruit in Anna Bright next year, but Cal will need replacement for 3 of the singles slot and a doubles pair with Manasse, Jansen, and Starr all graduating.

GO BEARS!


Cal Women’s Tennis are back in a very familiar territory - NCAA women’s tennis sweet 16 round. Golden Bears have made it this far in the NCAA tournament for now 11 straight years. In fact, Golden Bears have made it to the Sweet 16 a total of 33 times out of the total 36 years NCAA postseason history, which they have never missed.

Unfortunately, despite the high expectation at the beginning of the year, coming off another Final Four appearance last year and the program’s first team national title (at the ITA Indoor, the Cal Bears are vastly underrated by the NCAA committee as the 13th overall seed. This means that the Bears, still very capable of making a return trip to the Final Four if not more, will face a tough challenger out of the gate in Athens, Georgia this week. Standing between the Bears and an Elite 8 berth are the 3rd ranked Vanderbilt Commodores.

Cal Bears have had a very consistent lineup all year long (barring the brief weeks right before Pac-12 play when top player Maegan Manasse was held out for a few meets). Other than being edged by Stanfurd, defending NCAA champions, twice in recent weeks for both the Regular Season and Pac-12 tournament conference titles, Golden Bears have not lost since early March (3-4 decision to UCLA).

For this Sweet 16 matchup, they should have the familiar lineup of:

Doubles:

No.34 Maegan Manasse/Maya Jansen

No.55 Olivia Hauger/Karla Popovic

Denise Starr/Maria Smith

Singles:

No.34 Maegan Manasse

No.10 Karla Popovic

No.123 Denise Starr

Olivia Hauger

Maya Jansen

Maria Smith

It is a very senior-laden group with three key seniors in Maegan Manasse, Denise Starr, and the graduate transfer Maya Jansen. Jansen transferred to Cal from Alabama, she should be somewhat familiar with a few of the Vanderbilt players from her time in the SEC conference.

After losing to Stanfurd 1-4 in the Pac-12 championship, Bears had not drop a point in the two rounds of NCAA player, sweeping San Jose State and LSU.

Quick look at Vanderbilt

Vanderbilt are 22-5 on the year and 12-1 in conference play (a loss to Kentucky early in conference play). Like the Golden Bears, they played at the National Team Indoor Championships in New Haven, CT in February but the two sides did not meet.

Vanderbilt did make a trip to Palo Alto but lost to Stanfurd 3-4. The Kentucky loss on March 18th was their last setback, however, as the Commodores rolled through the rest of the regular season and won the SEC tournament 4-3 over Florida.

They most recently defeated Clemson 4-1.

This was their lineup (and presumably the same lineup against Cal)

Doubles:

No.1 Astra Sharma/Emily Smith (they somehow lost 6-0 to Clemson)

Emma Kurtz/Sydney Campebll

Fernanda Contreras/Christina Rosca

Singles:

No.4 Astra Sharma

No.15 Sydney Campbell

No.102 Christina Rosca

Emma Kurtz

Georgina Sellyn

No.87 Fernanda Contreras

On paper, the Vandy squad is very good at the top of their lineup. Their No.6 player Contreras will probably be a big favorite over Cal’s sophomore Maria Smith - lone player without NCAA postseason experience coming into this season. The rest of the matchups should be fairly even.

Unlike some of the other sports where only the top 3-4 teams have a realistic chance at the national title, college women’s tennis has a lot of parity, particularly this year. Both Vanderbilt and Cal are capable of winning the NCAA team title this year. This sweet 16 matchup should be fun, if not nerve wrecking at the end.


5 keys to Cal victory

1) Top of the singles order sets the tone

Maegan Manasse and Karla Popovic are essentially co-No.1 players. Junior Popovic really stepped up her game this year, particularly when Manasse was out with an injury. The top of the Vanderbilt lineup may looks formidable on paper, but it could really go either way there in those two matchups.

Manasse, always a very aggressive player, is using an underhanded serve this season to offset her elbow issues. Given the lack of familiarity of her opponents from seeing that serve (with a lot of side spin to compensate for the lack of velocity), it has actually been sort of an advantage. Manasse knows how to set herself up to punish any returns hit back without authority; she is still hitting hard in every shots other than the serve. Manasse has the experience of being the top ranked player in all of college tennis a couple of years ago.

2) Maya Jansen

The graduate student has found herself as the key in a few matches this year, both as the decisive double pair with Manasse and as a single player at court 5. In doubles, Cal often win in court 2 with Hauger/Popovic and lose in court 3. Top pair often decide the outcome, which makes Jansen’s experience (2x NCAA doubles champion while in Alabama) that much more important.

While Jansen is not as dominant as a singles player, her experience and mental toughness have been tested in a few tight meets this year as her court 5 has been the decider. I would not be surprised if Jansen is the key to this match, yet again.

3) Makes Athens a Bear Territory

Vanderbilt may be quite familiar with Athens, Georgia, but this often repeated site of NCAA postseason tennis should be fairly familiar to the older Golden Bears as well. Bears need to deal with that Southern humidity this week, if that’s there.

4) Be patient

A couple of Cal players, particularly Olivia Hauger and to a lesser degree Denise Starr, are the classical counterpunching type. Hauger just keeps on lofting the ball back until her opponents makes an unforced error. The strategy has worked fairly well for both of them in their career, although it does make me even more nerve wrecking than usual watching them play.

5) Make shots!

Make shots and score points. Particularly in those deuce deciding points (College Tennis has opted to shorten the game, so it’s a single sudden death point at deuce).


California Golden Bears (19-5) vs. Vanderbilt Commodores (22-5)

Where: Dan Magill Tennis Complex (Athens, Georgia)

When: 1 pm PT

Online Stream: GeorgiaDogs.com

GO BEARS!