Now both teams move on to Tulsa where the rest of the NCAA Tournament will be held. In the Round of 16, the women face 16th seed Texas Tech on Thursday, and the men take on fourth seed TCU on Friday.
The women (21-1 and ranked second in the country) made short work of overmatched Texas Rio Grande Valley on Friday, but had to battle a bit to get by UCSB on Saturday. There are 4-0 scores and then there are 4-0 scores.
Against UTRGV the Bears did not lose a set and disposed of the Vaqueros in just an hour and 20 minutes. On Saturday, the match was officially clinched by Klara Fabikova’s singles victory on Court 2, but it had been effectively decided several minutes earlier. An inspired comeback by Cal’s Maegan Manasse in the number one singles ignited the hard-fought victory over UCSB, which had upset No. 32 Kansas in a four-hour marathon on Friday.
The doubles matches showed the Bears what they were in for against Santa Barbara. Cal’s fourth-ranked doubles team of Manasse and Denise Starr could not put away the Gauchos Palina Dubavets and Stefani Stojic. But the other two Cal doubles teams – Fabivoka-Olivia Hauger and Lynn Chi and Maria Smith -- won their matches 6-4 and 6-3 respectively, winning the doubles point.
“UCSB came out with a lot of energy, and that was good preparation for us for the rest of the tournament,” Fabikova said. “I’m very happy that they pushed us, and we definitely had to make some adjustments. We had to be more aggressive and we got to work on our game, so I’m happy with how it went.”
On Court 1, Manasse, seventh ranked singles player in the country, had easily taken the first point, overpowering Santa Barbara’s Lou Adler. But then Manasse found herself in difficulty. Adler, taking advantage of some atypical unforced errors and making some stellar shots of her own, forged a 3-1 lead and seemed about to take control.
But after a brief conversation with head coach Amanda Augustus, Manasse roared back with a vengeance. Before Adler knew what hit her, Mansasse had steamrolled through 11 straight games and a 6-3, 6-0 victory.
“Maegan’s been hitting the ball better and better and working on rounding into form,” Augustus said.” She made the adjustments she needed to, and at her position you always play the best player on every team, and I think she handles it well. It was good to see her really step up and focus. She won 11 games in a row. That just shows her focus and her consistency when she figured out the game plan. It was a good day.”
That 2-0 lead became 3-0 when Karla Popovic finished off Natalie Da Silveira, 6-1, 6-1 on Court 6. Fabikova, a senior who was making her final appearance at Hellman, clinched the match by closing out Dubavets, 6-2, 6-2.
In NCAA tournament dual matches play ceases when one team compiles four points. Matches that were not completed go into the books as “abandoned”.
“Santa Barbara did a really good job of pushing us, and they’re a much improved team that’s well-coached,” Augustus said. “They competed hard against us after a really long match yesterday, and I’m really proud of our team for stepping up and maintaining their focus and composure. Now we can book some flights to Tulsa and work on that next match in the tournament that we’re very much looking forward to.”
Augustus feels that the depth of her team bodes well for its NCAA chances. “I think everybody has stepped up at different times, which has been good. That’s why the team results are so consistent,” she said this week. “I think I have really seen improvement out of everyone this year. They are all confident and feeling good going into the tournament. And I think that’s what we want to be, and we have to just take it (to the court) on the day.
The Bears have been knocked out on the round of 16 the last two years, both times by Stanford. The Cardinal are in a different bracket so the Bears would only meet them if both teams make the final match.
“That was a bad feeling when we lost in the round of 16 last year,” Starr said earlier in the week. “We don’t want to have that feeling again.”
The men (19-6) did not lose a set in taking out Army on Saturday. Ole Miss was more of a challenge on Sunday. The doubles portion was tied 1-1 when Cal’s No. 1 doubles team of Florian Lakat and Filip Bergevi prevailed over Fabian Fallert and Grey Hamilton, 6-4 to cinch the doubles point.
“The doubles point was a battle, and it ended up being critical for setting the tone for the match” coach Peter Wright said. “When our guys faced adversity, they stayed calm and stuck to their game plans. It was a physical match today, and we were ready.
“This past week our team did an amazing job of balancing their academic lives and their athletic lives. We finished finals on Friday and started the NCAA championships on Saturday, so it’s great to see the resiliency this group brings every day.”
In singles Andre Goranssoon on Court 2, Bergevi on Court 4 and J.T. Nishimura on Court 6 handily defeated their respective foes, with Nishimura’s victory the match clincher.
Wright feels his team, which has won eight of its last nine matches, is peaking at the right time and might make some noise in Tulsa, in their fourth trip to the Round of 16 in five years.
“We’ve had some challenges,” Wright said last week. “But it seems as we approach the end of the season that some of the health issues and the playing issues are clearing themselves up. We see a way with our team going into this championship – knock on wood – pretty healthy and playing at the highest level we’ve been all year. It’s a good way to be going into the postseason.”
None is playing better than Goranssson. After a brilliant fall season that saw him soar to the No. 3 ranked college player in the U.S., the Swedish native stumbled after Christmas. “He went through something of a slump, every athlete does that,” Wright said. “At this point in the season he has regained the form that had him ranked No. 3 in the country.”
Wright felt that Gornasson’s second set in his 6-3, 6-0 victory over Army’s Grant Riechmann was “the best he’s played in two months”.
- Cal honorees: Four Bears received ITA Northwest Regional honors: Wright was named Men’s Coach of the Year for the second time, Fabikova was the Women’s Senior Player of the Year, Starr was the region’s Player to Watch and Hauger the Rookie of the Year.