Teamwork and Youth Highlight Cal's Rebuilding Year
BERKELEY, Calif. - The 1996 season for the Cal women's tennis team proved to be one of the most challenging in Jan Brogan's 18 years at the helm of the program. For the first time since the inception of the NCAA Women's Tennis Championships, the squad failed to reach the national tournament, falling to No. 19 USC, 5-2, in the final round of NCAA regionals while finishing out of the top 10 for the first time in 12 years.
"On the surface, I was disappointed with our season," said Brogan. "However, when I took a step back and looked at how the team responded to adversity, I think the season was a success. Success is not always something that is quantifiable with a national ranking."
The Bears entered the season with a No. 6 ranking and got off to a fast 6-0 start including wins over No. 33 San Diego State (7-2) and No. 14 Arizona State (6-3). But, things began to catch up with Cal when it traveled to Madison, Wisc., for the National Team Indoors. Cal dropped close matches to No. 8 Wake Forest (5-3), No. 17 Vanderbilt (5-4) and No. 16 Notre Dame (5-4) with the heart of the Pac-10 season just ahead.
"I think the breakdown occurred partly because we had two players, Pam Nelson and Renata Kolbovic, leave the team to turn pro," Brogan said. "This put a lot of pressure on the team because everybody needed to be on top of their game for every match. Unfortunately, this didn't happen.
"It became clear that everyone had to stay healthy and go on the court to win, not just to play."
Despite the hard work and determination, the Bears, with a lineup comprised of seniors Pam Enkoji and Nicole Elliot and four freshmen, came away with only two wins in the final 16 regular season contests.
"We lost a number of close matches to teams that we hadn't lost to in years," said Brogan. "We hadn't lost to UCLA, USC or Arizona twice in one season for a long time. These setbacks, however, helped us discover the value of our season. We worked hard and never gave up through the season because the belief was so strong. I saw an incredible amount of support and I saw a team. The most significant thing over the second half of the season was that no matter how close the matches were, no matter how many matches we won or lost, the belief that we would win was always there."
Heading into the NCAA regionals, Cal's ranking had fallen to No. 35 and many thought Cal would go out without a fight. Just the opposite occurred.
"The desire to go to nationals was incredible because after 17 years of going to nationals, not going wasn't an option," said Brogan. "Many of our losses were very close, 5-4 or 6-3. When we went into the regional tournament, I was proud that the team thought it could turn around those 5-4's. The level of confidence and desire was so high. The team went in with strong attitudes and believed it was unacceptable to lose."
At regionals, Cal went on to defeat its first two opponents. The Bears beat No. 23 San Diego, 5-1, as Cal advanced to face No. 13 and top-seeded Pepperdine. The outcome was an identical 5-1 victory for the Bears as they moved to within one victory of nationals. No. 19 USC proved to be too much, however, as the Bears fell, 5-2, and finished the season with a No. 23 ranking.
Individuals did travel to nationals where Enkoji advanced to the second round and an all-freshman doubles team of Amanda Augustus and Francesca La'O reached the quarterfinals. Their strong performance earned the tandem All-America honors.