The Bears did not exactly come out of nowhere. In Augustus' nine years the Bears have consistently been among the nation's top programs. "Our goal each year is to be a top-five program," she said this week. "You kind of work for that every year."
The Bears enjoyed a successful indoor season in the fall, closing that portion of the campaign by winning the ITA National Women's Indoor championship. They had entered that tournament ranked sixth in the country, and after the victory Augustus began to suspect she might have something special on her hands.
"I felt that indoors was going to be a testing point for us," she said. "And to finally win our first indoor title, that helped a great deal. That allowed our confidence to match our level of play, and we had people step up. Other top teams were there and we won. So yeah, I thought, 'We can keep this going in the outdoor season.' "
And they certainly have. They have been ranked No. 1 the entire outdoor season, save the weekend of March 4-5, when Ohio State slipped past them temporarily. They have their sights set on an NCAA title.
"I didn't necessarily see it coming," said senior Lynn Chi. "But looking back on it I can see why this group is successful. We all work extremely hard and know what it takes to succeed on the court. It nice to see how we're taking it, we're not letting it get to us and we're still working extremely hard to earn a national title. It's such a great accomplishment for everyone on the team."
As proud as she is of her current team, Augustus isn't ready to say it's the best she's had at Cal. "It's so hard to compare," she said. "I think some teams were heavier at the top, some teams were really deep. We'll see. This team has already made a little history and hopefully we're not done yet. We're just trying to keep focus on one match at a time."
They resume focusing this weekend when they close out their home season with matches against Oregon at 1:30 p.m. on Friday and Stanford at 11 a.m. on Sunday. The Ducks (11-5, 3-3 Pac-12) are ranked 38th, exactly 37 spots below Cal and have lost three straight after opening the conference season with three straight wins.
"I think they are much improved over last year," Augustus said. "This is the highest they have been ranked in quite a while. They've got some younger players that are hot right now. They played a real close match, 4-3, at UCLA last weekend."
On Sunday comes The Big Match against Stanford (9-4, 4-1), which has earned a No. 20 ranking. Besides the usual motivation that goes into Cal-Stanford athletic contest, the Bears have a score to settle here. Stanford upset the No. 3 Bears in the NCAA Tournament round of 16 last year, prematurely ending Cal's season. The Cardinal also knocked the Bears out of the NCAAs in 2014.
"Of course, we've lost to them the last two years in the NCAAs, but were able to beat them in the regular season," said Klara Fabikova, the other senior on the Cal roster. "It would be very painful if we lost to Stanford."
Augustus thinks the Cardinal might be more formidable than their relatively modest ranking would indicate. "They pretty much have their same top four as last year and they've added a couple of freshmen," Augustus said. "Their No. 1 player (Carol Zhao) has been in and out of the lineup this year because she's been playing some pro events. She wants to play in the Olympics for Canada. She'll be here this weekend so we'll be playing their full strength team. I think they're a little under-ranked right now because she hasn't played all their matches."
Zhao will be going against Cal's No. 1 Maegan Manasse, who has a 17-9 record and is ranked seventh in the country.
Prior to the Oregon match Cal will honor Chi and Fabikova in "Senior Day" festivities. Since entering Cal as freshmen in 2012 they have combined to win more than 200 singles matches and 180 in doubles. Chi, who was NCAA singles runner-up in 2014 is 100-25 in singles and 81-36 in doubles. She missed time the last two seasons with a hip injury.
Fabikova, who paired with current volunteer assistant coach Zsofi Susayni was a runner-up in NCAA doubles a year ago, has career marks of 117-35 in singles and 102-39 in doubles. She was Pac-12 Player of the Week for her winning four matches – two singles, two doubles – as Cal swept Utah and Colorado last weekend.
Senior Klara Fabikova
"I think they're both enjoying their senior season, which is good," Augustus said. "They've obviously been outstanding performers on the court all four years. I think having that better balance this year, making their contributions to the team, doing really well in the classroom, but also enjoying it, is impressive.
"Neither one at this point plans to play professional tennis so this is their last go-round. So instead of having that cause them worries, they are just going out there and giving their best in singles and doubles. Lynn obviously has been troubled with injuries the last year and a half so to have her healthy and competing in every match like she wants to, has been tremendous asset for us."
Both of them plan to continue their education. Fabikova, who is from the Czech Republic, at one time was interested in the hospitality industry, specifically cooking. Now her ambitions have changed a little. "I am not sure I am going to end up in the cooking industry, but I want to do something in service for people," she said. "When I do something for others they appreciate it. So I am going to do something like that."
As a young player in Europe her designs were strictly on professional tennis. "I did want to go pro but Cal has taught me there is more to life than just tennis," she said. "It's been a great experience."
Chi's battles with her hip injury cost her some time on the court, but gave her career inspiration.
"I am working on my application to med school," she said. "I'm really interested in reconstructive surgery. I worked with a sports medicine doctor this summer and was really impressed with how much they help athletes and that's something I would like to get back to. I missed some matches with my hip. I also have some experience from the patient's side. I was never really sure what I wanted to do until seeing that."
- The match against Stanford is part of the USTA Match Day series, which promotes college tennis through "enhanced on-line and digital exposure." It also features giveaways of water bottles and sun glasses to those attending.
- Although this is the final weekend of dual meet matches at the Hellman Tennis Center, the Bears could host some NCAA matches.
- The 15-0 record is Cal's best since it began 10-0 in 1999, Augustus' senior year.
- Cal has four players who have been recognized as All-Americans, Chi, Fabikova, Manasse, and Denise Starr.