UCLA handed the Stanford women’s tennis team its first loss of the season on Saturday, shattering the Cardinal’s undefeated season with a 5-2 victory. More importantly, the match ended the Cardinal’s regular-season home-winning streak at 157, with the last defeat on the Farm dating back to Feb. 27, 1999.
It was not all bad news for Stanford, however, as the loss came one day after the team routed No. 4 USC (18-2, 7-1 Pac-12), 4-2. Despite falling to the No. 1 Bruins (21-1, 8-1), No. 6 Stanford (16-1, 7-1) is viewing the loss as a positive, something that will help take the pressure off in its quest to win a team title in May.
“It was very much needed for all of us to play an incredible, high-level team at this point in the season and see where we are,” senior captain Veronica Li said. “We did so well against USC and came up short yesterday, but I think it’s good to point out that there hasn’t been a single season where we’ve gone undefeated and then won the national championship. This match gives us motivation and shows that everyone has to work harder.”
It was only two years ago that the Cardinal won the national championship, and it was in that same year that Stanford was beaten 6-1 by the Bruins.
“A lot of us agree that this is the best thing that could have happened to us at this point in the season,” Li said.
The day started off on a bad note for Stanford when it dropped its first doubles point of the year. Junior Stacey Tan and freshman Ellen Tsay flew by UCLA’s Courtney Dolehide and Pamela Montez in the No. 2 spot, beating them 8-2. However, the duo of junior Mallory Burdette and sophomore Nicole Gibbs lost to Robin Anderson and Skylar Morton 8-6 on court one, and junior Natalie Dillon and Li also were defeated on court three.
Stanford needed to come out strong in singles after losing the doubles point, and it did so as Burdette crushed UCLA’s McCall Jones 6-1, 6-1. After this victory, however, the Cardinal lost four matches, only picking up a victory on court three. Gibbs, Tsay, Li and Dillon all lost to UCLA’s four freshmen in the lineup.
Li, who was swept by Chanelle Van Nguyen, 6-1, 6-3, commented on the strength of UCLA’s recruiting class.
“Their freshmen are definitely playing really well,” she said. “At the same time, we’re still only in the regular season, and there’s less pressure. They don’t have a lot of experience playing college tennis yet. They might have less of an advantage going into the postseason and NCAAs.”
Tan captured a 7-5, 7-5 victory over Montez, recording Stanford’s second and final point of the match.
On Saturday, Tan and Dillon were the only two players to falter in the matchup with USC. Doubles were not played because of a threat of rain, but Stanford held on to clinch four of the six singles matches and grab the victory. On court one, Gibbs played a close first set against USC’s Zoe Scandalis but ran away with the second, winning 7-6 (4), 6-2. Burdette, Tsay and Li also came out with victories.
Looking ahead to this weekend, the Cardinal will be facing Cal in a rematch of a meeting earlier this season in which Stanford won 5-2. However, that match didn’t count for the conference standings, which reveal no clear top seed as of now.
“Even though we beat Cal last time we played, that doesn’t guarantee a win again,” Tsay said. “Cal beat UCLA, UCLA beat us, we beat USC and USC beat Cal. That just goes to show that it really depends on each team’s performance that day.”
In preparation for their last regular season match before Pac-12s and NCAAs, the Cardinal looks to be more focused in practice.
“Personally, I want my practice to have a more specific focus,” Tsay said. “I need to keep my feet moving after every shot and have targets in mind for each ball that I’m going to hit. If what I’m working on can come naturally, then all I have to worry about is staying mentally tough. As a team, we’re looking to add more structure to this week’s practices, too.”
Stanford takes on the Golden Bears this Saturday at noon at the Taube Family Tennis Stadium.