ATLANTA – After the rivals won on each other’s home courts earlier this year, it took the neutral site of Georgia Tech and the NCAA round of 16 on May 15 to decide the Big Slam between sixth-seeded/ranked California and defending NCAA champion Stanford. The Golden Bears took a 2-0 lead, but after a see-saw battle, Pac-12 champion Cal lost to the 11th-seeded/ranked Cardinal, 4-3, indoors at the Ken Byers Tennis Complex.
Stanford clinched the match when freshman Caroline Doyle held off Cal freshman Maegan Manasse on court six, 6-7(5), 6-3, 7-6(0).
The Bears end the team portion of their season with a record of 20-5, while Stanford improves to 19-2 and advances to the NCAA quarterfinals to play Virginia on Saturday. Stanford – the last team to beat Cal, on March 8 in Berkeley – snaps Cal’s dual-match winning streak at 14.
Today’s match was originally scheduled to take place outdoors at the Dan Magill Tennis Complex in Athens, Georgia, but rain in Athens forced the move to the indoor site in Atlanta.
Cal took a 1-0 lead after capturing the doubles point. First the 83rd-ranked team of junior Zsofi Susanyi and sophomore Klara Fabikova defeated Doyle/Amelia Herring, 8-4, on court three. The 47th-ranked tandem of Manasse and freshman Denise Starr then clinched with an 8-3 victory over the 50th-ranked Taylor Davidson/Ellen Tsay on court two. Stanford’s 10th-ranked Kristie Ahn/Carol Zhao led Cal’s 41st-ranked pair of senior Anett Schutting and sophomore Lynn Chi, 7-5, and had match point on court one when Cal’s win on court two left the court-one battle unfinished.
In singles, Susanyi, ranked 23rd, posted a 6-2, 6-1 win over No. 51 Krista Hardebeck on court two to hand Cal its 2-0 lead.
But the Cardinal won the next two courts to knot the overall match at 2-2. Schutting, Cal’s top-ranked player at No. 18, fell to the 21st-ranked Zhao, 6-2, 6-3, on court three, and then the 30th-ranked Starr lost to the third-ranked Ahn, 6-4, 6-2, on court one.
Fabikova, ranked 87th, put the Bears on the brink of victory at 3-2 with her 6-4, 6-3 win over No. 54 Tsay on court five. But the 24th-ranked Chi dropped her match on court four, 6-2, 4-6, 6-3, to the 50th-ranked Davidson to tie things at 3-3, and all eyes moved to court six, where freshmen Manasse and Doyle decided the outcome.
“It’s definitely a heartbreaking loss for this team,” Cal head coach Amanda Augustus said. “They worked really hard this season and made history by winning our first Pac-12 title. We’ve really been taking it match by match and had been able to scrape through these really close matches, and we just came up a little bit short today. But I’m really proud of their effort, how they competed as a team and how they learned what it means to compete and leave it all out there on the court.
“We came up against a team that was a little bit better today. We have a lot of respect for our conference and conference competitors and really feel they’ll do well and go far. Credit to Stanford for a very hard-fought victory today. It was well-fought by both sides.
“I’m just really proud of everything we accomplished as a team, and we’re not done yet. We still have a lot of players in the individual championship. The hardest part will be soon when the whole team isn’t still together. But I think they all gave it their best.”
Four Bears – Schutting, Susanyi, Chi and Starr – earned at-large selection into the NCAA singles tournament, which starts on May 21 in Athens. Manasse is an alternate for NCAA singles. The duo of Chi and Schutting is an alternate for the NCAA doubles tournament also slated to start next week.
Rain played a part earlier in the season series between the San Francisco Bay Area teams, as the March 1 match in Berkeley was moved one week later in the East Bay due to rain. On March 8 at the Channing Tennis Courts, the visiting Cardinal beat the Bears, 5-2, in a nonconference match. In the April 19 regular-season finale at Stanford, Cal completed a perfect conference season at 10-0 and clinched the Pac-12 championship with a 6-1 victory, which was just the Cardinal’s fifth loss at home since 1991.
On April 19, Manasse beat Doyle in three sets – 4-6, 6-4, 6-2 – to clinch the victory over the Cardinal. On March 8, another freshman vs. freshman battle clinched the match, as Stanford’s Zhao beat Starr in three sets – 6-3, 6-7(6), 6-4 – in what had been Cal’s last loss.