Having sealed the conference title with their rousing 6-3 victory over Cal State Stanislaus on April 17, the women’s tennis team suffered a hangover against Division-I opponents Cal State Northridge on April 24 and San Diego State on April 26; UCSD lost both matches 7-0.
Despite the team’s end of the season losses, head coach Liz LaPlante said the challenging matches were useful in preparing for the postseason race for the regional and national titles, which begin May 6. UCSD needs two victories on the Hawaiian Islands to claim a spot in 16-team Division-II National Championship bracket. The Tritons must first navigate their match against Hawaii Pacific University, a squad that has knocked the Tritons out of the playoffs two of the past three seasons.
With a win, the Tritons would face the winner of a matchup between BYU-Hawaii and California Collegiate Athletic Association foe Cal State Stanislaus. The Seasiders shutout the Tritons 9-0 on March 24 while UCSD tallied a pair of victories against the Warriors during the regular season.
While history doesn’t side with the Tritons making Nationals — schools from the Hawaiian Islands have knocked UCSD out of the playoffs for four straight years — LaPlante believes the D-I competition was good preparation for the playoffs.
“Every year, I try and schedule some good teams to play between conference and regionals,” LaPlante said. “A lot of times, they wind up being good Division-I schools that are tough to beat. We just went out there and saw it as practice, trying to focus on our skills to help prepare us for regionals.”
The Tritons traveled to Northridge for their penultimate game of the season, at which they lost every singles and doubles match. Three Triton singles players lost in straight sets: junior Taskeen Bains fell 6-2, 6-1; senior Anita Athavale fell 6-3, 6-2; and freshman Melissa Breisacher fell 6-2, 6-1. Sophomore Samantha Yeung took a set off of her opponent, but still fell in a decisive third set to lose 6-3, 2-6, 6-2.
The doubles teams fared no better against the elite D-I competition. The dependable tandem of Athavale and Breisacher lost 8-4. Bains and junior Natalie Varnay paired up to little avail, losing 8-4 and the team of Yeung and junior Cindy Dao lost 8-1.
After its crushing loss to the Matadors, UCSD returned home and traveled across town to face local rivals SDSU — ranked No. 75 at the national level.
“San Diego State is a really strong school,” La Plante said. “We knew that we probably weren’t going to beat them. It was just fun to play a local San Diego team and give the girls some tough competition so they stay focused after the Conference Championships.”
The Aztecs made their superiority known, sweeping all the matches for a comprehensive 7-0 victory.
The Triton’s junior Valerie Tang — who wasn’t even on the starting roster against Cal State Northridge — played the most competitive match of the day, but still lost 6-4, 6-3.
Yeung agreed with LaPlante that the tough D-I competition was valuable in preparation for playoffs.
“Division-I is definitely a lot tougher, but we had a lot of close matches,” Yeung said. “We know that both teams, CSUN and SDSU, are beatable. We feel ready to face the rest of our Division-II competition heading into the postseason.”
UCSD will travel to Hawaii the week of May 6 to open up the western regional against postseason nemesis Hawaii Pacific University. Last year, the Tritons managed a 5-4 victory over the Sea Warriors during the regular season, only to be eliminated by them in the regional playoffs with a score of 5-3. The Tritons will enter their May 6 encounter against Hawaii Pacific motivated by retribution, hoping to reverse their losing trend against the Sea Warriors who beat UCSD 5-4 in a closely contested matchup on March 25.
Yeung said the Tritons are preparing rigorously for the challenge, and remain confident they can exact revenge on the team that has repeatedly foiled their national title plans.
“We are getting better prepared to go to Hawaii, and hopefully nationals after that,” Yeung said. “We are hydrating more, staying more focused the night before and trying to get better mentally prepared.”
In calculating a tactical approach against Hawaii Pacific, LaPlante said she is urging the girls to focus on the individual players they will be facing.
While the players focus on mental and physical preparation, LaPlante is calculating the tactical approach the team will adopt against Hawaii Pacific, and said she is trying to focus the girls’ attention to their individual matchups.
“Now that it is the postseason, we are trying to get more specific with the teams we are going to face,” LaPlante said. “Especially with the doubles, we are trying to cater our formations to help us against the competition as we move ahead.”