BERKELEY – By notching one “first” last weekend, it’s now hard not to think about Cal’s women’s tennis team getting another.
The Bears won their first Pac-12 championship ever last weekend when they dominated Stanford 6-1 to wrap up a perfect 10-0 conference season. That gives Cal an automatic berth into the NCAA Tournament.
The Bears are a perennial top-25 program that have played in every NCAA Tournament ever. Since the tournament expanded to 64 teams in 1999, Cal has advanced to the Sweet Sixteen 12 times. The Bears reached the NCAA title match in 2008 and 2009, the first two years head coach Amanda Augustus was at the helm.
But Cal is still searching for that elusive national championship. Now ranked fourth in the country and unblemished in the rugged Pac-12 – which has six teams currently ranked in the ITA Top 25 – could this be the year the Bears hoist the hardware in May?
“We’re going for the title,” said senior Anett Schutting, who is No. 19 in the ITA individual rankings. “It’s a matter of staying focused and treat every match the same. We’re not going to underestimate any of the teams. We’re going to take one match at a time and we’ll see how far we can go.”
With a blend of proven experience and talented youth, this is one of Augustus’ deepest and most versatile teams. The Bears feature three singles players currently ranked in the top 25 of the ITA rankings, with Schutting being joined by junior Zsofi Susanyi at No. 20 and sophomore Lynn Chi at No. 25. Freshman Denise Starr is ranked No. 31 in the nation.
Susanyi advanced to the NCAA semifinals as a freshman while Schutting was an NCAA quarterfinalist as a sophomore.
“This team has really decided that they want to work hard and that their goals really mean something to them,” Augustus said. “It’s one thing to say you want to do something. But when you put the work behind it, it makes it so much more powerful. I think that’s something that this team has done a really job at.”
The Bears (18-4) have been building toward this season for the past couple years. With Susanyi and Schutting experiencing such individual success as underclassmen, the groundwork was set for a special season. Joined now by younger players such as Chi, Starr and freshman Maegan Manasse, Cal is in position to improve on back-to-back runs to the NCAA quarterfinals.
“For me, it wasn’t a surprise,” Schutting said. “We’ve been building up for this. Since the fall, I knew we had a really strong team. It has been the strongest since I’ve been here. We have a really deep lineup.”
The Bears' No. 4 ranking is their highest since they were No. 3 during the 2010 season. They've handed No. 1 UCLA one of its two losses this season. With the top teams in the country beating up on each other this year, Augustus believes the NCAA Tournament will be a wide-open affair.
“I really think it’s anyone’s tournament this year,” Augustus said. “Ten or so schools have a real shot at it, and I think we’re in that mix. It takes a little bit of everything to win a championship. Our goal is to be as prepared as we can be.”
Before the NCAA Tournament commences in two weeks, the Bears travel to the Pac-12 Championships this week in Ojai. The Pac-12 Tournament is strictly for individual singles and doubles entries and won’t affect the Bears’ status as a team.
Cal will find out its NCAA assignment next Tuesday.
“We’re at Cal. Of course, we always want to be excellent in the classroom, on the court and in the community,” Augustus said. “Our teams always work hard, but this has come together really, really well.”