©Jonathan Kelley for Zootennis--
The University of California women's tennis team won its first national championship on Monday, beating defending champion University of North Carolina 4-3 in the final of the 2016 ITA National Women's Team Indoors in Madison, Wisconsin.
Head coach Amanda Augustus, who starred at Cal in the late 90s, was thrilled to get the win, particularly after her team lost in the ITA Indoor semifinals the past two years. "Just really proud of this team. We made Cal history today," said Augustus. "They fought hard all week, they fought as a team, and we're just so excited to bring the trophy back to Berkeley."
The final was the second 4-3 win in as many days for the Golden Bears, and the second time a young player at the bottom of the line-up came through to win a tense third set. Today's heroine was the highly touted freshman from Oklahoma, Olivia Hauger, who came within two points of losing before winning the last four games of the match to beat UNC sophomore Marika Akkerman 7-5 2-6 7-5.
"It's absolutely incredible," said Hauger of clinching her team's first national title. "I mean, this week -- we knew we could do it, but saying that and doing that are two very different things, so I'm just really proud of my team and how we've come out here as a team, competed really hard, and we've won together. And everybody has been crucial this week."
Cal started the day in a bit of a hole. As it had all week, UNC won the doubles point, in this case 2-0. #16 Jessie Aney/Kate Vialle rolled over #43 Klara Fabikova/Hauger 6-1 at #2 while at #3, Ashley Dai/Chloe Ouellet-Pizer defeated Maria Smith/Lynn Chi 6-4. In all, UNC went 8-1 in doubles this week, while Cal went 4-4 including 0-4 in its semifinal and final matches. ("We're going to go home and work on doubles," Augustus said with a laugh.)
Cal went out very strong in singles, winning 4 of the 6 first sets and forcing UNC to play catch-up for much of the afternoon. Hauger's was the only match that went to a deciding set, but it was far from the only result that was in doubt until the end.
UNC and Cal split convincing wins at lines #1 and #2. At 2, California senior #10 Klara Fabikova got out to a dominant 6-1 lead and went up a break at 2*-1 against #88 Whitney Kay. The crafty Kay tried to mount her second comeback in as many days, immediately breaking back and then breaking again at 4-3* to serve for the set. But Fabikova's power proved too much, and she won the last 4 games of the match, dropping only 2 points in the last 3 games.
Meanwhile at 1, Tar Heel Hayley Carter, ranked #6 in singles, completed a tremendous tournament with a 6-2 6-2 win over #5 Maegan Manasse. Carter finished 3-0 in singles and 3-0 in doubles, playing at #1 in both disciplines. Her win put UNC up 2-1.
At line 6, Cal's semifinal hero, Karla Popovic, got a solid win over UNC's semifinal (and quarterfinal) hero, freshman Chloe Ouellet-Pizer. Ouellet-Pizer had had a phenomenal tournament, with the two clinches in singles and three doubles point clinches with Dai. But it just wasn't working for her in singles today. She went down 1-6 0-4* to Popovic, losing all 5 deciding points along the way. Finally on her 6th deciding point, she benefited from a Popovic double fault to get on the board at 1*-4. The players traded three holds (with Ouellet-Pizer saving 5 break points, including two deciding points and three match points, in her two service games). When it came time for Popovic to serve it out at 6-1 5*-3, she went down 15-40 and it looked like the lefty Tar Heel might have another miracle comeback in her. But an aggressive Popovic hit a forehand down the line winner to save the first, and a swinging volley winner to get to deciding point/match point. When Ouellet-Pizer hit a forehand into the net, Cal was even at 2-2.
Immediately thereafter, Cal senior Lynn Chi served out her match against Kate Vialle 6-2 7-5. What looked to be another runaway got "a little hairy" at the end, as Chi chuckled afterward. Like Popovic, she raced out to a set and 4-0 lead, and was up 0-30 on Vialle's serve, but the Tar Heel won the next seven points and eventually a deciding point to get to 2*-4. However, she was broken at love in the next game to give Chi the opportunity to serve at 6-2 5*-2. Then out of nowhere, Chi got tight, and was broken at love. In Vialle's next service game, Chi got 2 match points but couldn't covert. This happened on deciding point/match point:
Chi served for the match again at 5*-4 and hit an ace to get to deciding point, but Vialle again saved match point and the set was even at 5-5. But a newly relaxed Chi closed out the match with a break on deciding point and a hold at 30.Chi sets it up beautifully but misses the overhead. She'll still serve for the match up 5*-4 at 3 pic.twitter.com/g68W6hYCSR— Jonathan Kelley (@jokelley_tennis) February 8, 2016
It was 3-2 Cal with lines 4 and 5 outstanding.
And both matches were indeed outstanding. At 4, UNC freshman #68 Jessie Aney had an improbable first set win after going down 0-3* and then surviving Cal's Starr attempts to serve out the set at 5*-4 and 6*-5. The set featured 7 consecutive deciding points and 8 breaks in 12 games. Aney dominated the tiebreak 7-1 and then went up 1*0 in the second set (on, you guessed it, another deciding point). Remarkably, that was the last break of the match as the two players went a combined 12-12 in saving break points (including 5 more deciding points) in the final 9 games. The last two games were the most dramatic. Serving at 3*-5, Starr went down 0-40 to give Aney four match points, but saved all four, the penultimate one with an impressive backhand crosscourt winner. Starr made it seven points in a row as Aney went down 0-40 herself at 5*-4, with Starr hit one of the shots of the tournament, a running forehand crosscourt dipping pass that gave her four break-back points. But Aney showed impressive resolve and on deciding point/match point, hit a stretch backhand stick volley to win 7-6(1) 6-4 and tie the dual at 3-3.
Massive win for UNC freshman Jessie Aney, holding from 0-40 to seal a 7-6 6-4 win vs Starr at 4 singles. UNC 3 Cal 3 pic.twitter.com/MCnoRD45g8— Jonathan Kelley (@jokelley_tennis) February 8, 2016
So it was all down to Hauger/Akkerman on 5. The #81-ranked Hauger had been stellar all tournament, winning her first three matches without losing more than 4 games in any set. Against Akkerman, it looked like that pattern would repeat itself as she broke the Carolina sophomore at love to serve for the first set at 5*-3. But Akkerman stepped it up, breaking Hauger at 15 and then holding at 30 to even the set at 5-5. The next game went to deciding point, at which point Hauger hit a big serve that Akkerman couldn't get back. Hauger then broke to take her 7th consecutive set of the tournament.
The next set started with 5 breaks until Akkerman finally held to go up 4-2* and cruised to a 6-2 set win. Thus the only match to go to a third set would end with the deciding set of the tournament. After 4 holds to start the set, Hauger went up 40-15 but tossed in some errors and was broken. At this point, Aney's win meant the entire building gathered to watch the last match. Every point elicited a big cheer from one team or the other and from one set of fans or the other.
Serving up 3*-2, Akkerman started with a double fault and another in a plethora of great Hauger defensive points put the Tar Heel down 0-30. At 15-40, Akkerman served to Hauger's forehand, and couldn't handle the massive return. Hauger went up 30-0 in the next game but an error-filled game ended with a Cal backhand error on deciding point and UNC was up 4*-3. Akkerman played a great game to hold for 5-3*, but that would be the last game she would win on the day. 7 of the next 11 points were Akkerman unforced errors, including a framed backhand that hit the roof at 5*-4 15-15 and forehand long on break point.
The match was now even at 5-5 but Hauger had all the momentum. She held at 30 to put the pressure squarely on Akkerman, now serving to try to take it to a third set tiebreak. Akkerman had three chances to do just that, getting to 40-15 with some inspired play, but then two unforced errors put things at deuce. Deciding point. Match point.
Like she did back at 3*-2 15-40, Akkerman served out wide. Hauger moved to her right and hit perhaps the biggest single shot in California women's tennis history: a down the line winner. Game, set, match, championship.
"Honestly I wasn't that nervous," said Hauger about the end of her match. "I was trying to tell myself to have fun and recognize how great of an opportunity this is, and how great of an experience we've had." From 3-5 down, "I started hitting out on the ball a bit more at the right times."Return winner by freshman @OliviaHauger and the University of California Golden Bears win the 2016 #ITAIndoors pic.twitter.com/TgPTBfmGG1— Jonathan Kelley (@jokelley_tennis) February 8, 2016
Cal, the only PAC 12 school to make the trip to Madison, is the third PAC 10/PAC 12 school to win the ITA Indoors in the tournament's 29-year history. UCLA won the tournament in 2012 and Stanford has won it 10 times, most recently in 2011. (Stanford beat Cal 8-0 in the Bears' only other appearance at the ITA Indoors final in 2000.)
The win was especially sweet for seniors Chi and Fabikova, who won in their last chance at this title after past disappointments. "Happy to make history with this one next to me," said Fabikova of Chi.
"ITA Indoors is such a huge honor to win," said Chi. "The fact that we won the first team national championship for our school, that's a great feeling, because we've had our chances in the past. Especially for both of us to get the singles wins today makes it all the sweeter."
As for having to watch a freshman close out the match, Chi said it was "quite stressful, but I mean, Olivia has competed so well here, and we had so much confidence in her. Even when she got down 3-5, we know she had the right game plan and she would go for what she needed to. We're just so proud of her, and she will have that experience for the rest of her life."
"It was an unbelievable match," said UNC head coach Brian Kalbas. "I don't think that we lost it, I think that definitely Cal won it. You can tell by the last shot: on a big point they stepped up and played fearless, and I give them all the credit."
"They put us on our heels and won a bunch of first sets, and we did a really good job of fighting back and putting us in a position to win the match," said Kalbas. "We've got a new team and players who haven't been in these positions before, so it was great" to have them experience those moments.
Both teams will soon turn their attention toward their conference schedules, and then the NCAAs in May in Tulsa where they will likely be among the favorites. Both teams are seeking their first NCAA team title.
But for now, Augustus and her team will relish the moment. Augustus had one final message for Cal fans everywhere: "Go Bears!"
February 8, 2016
ITA Women’s National Team Indoor Final, Madison, Wisc.
No. 4 seed California 4, No. 3 seed North Carolina 3
1. #6 Hayley Carter (NC) def. #5 Maegan Manasse (CAL) 6-2, 6-2
2. #10 Klara Fabikova (CAL) def. #88 Whitney Kay (NC) 6-2, 7-5
3. Lynn Chi (CAL) def. Kate Vialle (NC) 6-3, 7-5
4. #68 Jessie Aney (NC) def. Denise Starr (CAL) 7-6 (7-1), 6-4
5. #81 Olivia Hauger (CAL) def. Marika Akkerman (NC) 7-5, 2-6, 7-5
6. Karla Popovic (CAL) def. #112 Chloe Ouellet-Pizer (NC) 6-1, 6-3
1. #2 Hayley Carter/Whitney Kay (NC) vs. #3 Maegan Manasse/Denise Starr (CAL) 5-4, unfinished
2. #16 Jessie Aney/Kate Vialle (NC) def. #43 Klara Fabikova/Olivia Hauger (CAL) 6-1
3. Ashley Dai/Chloe Ouellet-Pizer (NC) def. Lynn Chi/Maria Smith (CAL) 6-4
Order of finish: Doubles (2,3); Singles (2,1,6,3,4,5)