UCLA has found a roadmap to success this year in women's sports. First, have a fantastic regular season, finishing with a top 2 national ranking. Next, turn things over to the NCAA seeding committee, and have them totally screw things up, dropping you out of the top 4 seeds at the expense of supposed powers in the SEC and ACC. Next, take the tournament by storm, steamrolling teams from supposedly better conferences. Last, hoist the championship trophy. Repeat whenever possible.
That was the formula in women's soccer. UCLA ran through San Diego State, Kentucky (SEC), Stanford, and 3 ACC teams in a row (North Carolina on the road, Virginia in the national semis, and Florida State in the championship).
In women's tennis, the final regular season rankings from ITA were as follows- UCLA 1, Georgia 2, Alabama 3, Cal 4, Texas A&M 5, Duke 6, Virginia 7. And here were the seedings- Georgia 1 (bumped up one spot), Alabama 2 (bumped up one spot), Virginia 3 (bumped up three spots !), Duke 4 (bumped up two spots), UCLA 5 (bumped down four spots).
UCLA had gone 21-2 in the regular season, but the powers that be somehow decided that this made the Bruins only the 5th best team in the country. So it was mission time once again. First up was Sac State, and an easy 4-0 victory. The Bruins lost a total of 5 games (!) (1 doubles game, 4 singles games) in the 4 points needed for victory. Next up was the first SEC victim for the Bruins, as UCLA bagelled (sorry Chianti- it is not a donut) Mississippi 4-0. This was a little tougher than the 1st round, as the Bruins dropped 7 doubles games, and 9 singles games. But the Bruins did not come close to losing a set in the Westwood regional.
As a slight diversion, if you want to see what the tennis team went through in terms of support from Morgan Center, click on this link. The link is from the UCLA website write-up for the Sac State match, and is labelled "UCLA vs. Ole Miss LIVE STATS". This buffoonery will obviously not deter Chianti from patting himself on the back and padding his bio for another national championship. But come on Chianti- there are two teams. Maybe you could keep them separate in the future. Just a thought.
Meanwhile, having plowed through the Westwood Regional, it was on to Athens, Georgia (SEC territory) for the national finals. In the round of 16, UCLA whitewashed ACC's Miami 4-0, making it three straight postseason wins without dropping a point. This was tougher than the final score would indicate. #1 doubles Robin Anderson/ Jennifer Brady lost their match 8-5. That put the burden on the remaining doubles teams, but they came through with flying colors, as #2 doubles Catherine Harrison/ Kyle McPhillips and #3 doubles Courtney Dolehide/ Chanelle Van Nguyen both won, to capture the all important doubles point. The singles turned out to be more relaxing, as Catherine Harrison at #5, Brady at #2 and Van Nguyen at #4 won in straight sets.
So the Bruins were on to the quarterfinals, without having lost a set in singles play, and having lost only one set in doubles play. TIARA- take note. The women's tennis team did not consider reaching the Sweet 16 a satisfactory accomplishment.
Next up for UCLA was 4 seed Duke. This was an opportunity to avenge one of the two UCLA losses this season, as the Bruins had lost in February in the ITA National Indoors to Duke in the finals, a result which apparently flummoxed the seeding committee that they forgot to look at the final regular season rankings in setting the seeds. But, no matter.
The #3 UCLA doubles team of Dolehide/ Van Nguyen and the #1 UCLA doubles team of Anderson/ Brady won, which meant that the #2 doubles team of Harrison/ McPhillips abandoned the match which they were winning at the time. The singles turned out to be a much tougher affair, as Duke was determined to show that they deserved to be seeded better than UCLA. Turned out they were wrong. But after Duke's #6 won and Duke's #3 won, the Bruins were behind in the score 2-1, the first time that UCLA had been behind during the entire postseason. But the Bruins then reeled off three straight singles wins, with Van Nguyen at #4 winning 6-4, 7-5, Robin Anderson at #1 winning 7-6, 6-3, and Catherine Anderson at #5 winning in 3 sets, 5-7, 6-1, 6-3. The #2 singles had just started a 3rd set when the Bruins clinched.
So, much more difficult, but it was on to the semis. This turned out to be an easier match, as the Bruins faced SEC (yawn) foe Florida. And guess what? We can beat Florida in sports. Turns out we just need better coaches and better players. Who knew?
The #2 doubles team of Harrison/ McPhillips and the #1 doubles team of Anderson/ Brady both won their matches in tiebreakers, so once again, UCLA had the doubles point, as was the case in every postseason match. Jennifer Brady smoked her opponent at #2 singles 6-1, 6-1 to put the Bruins up 2-0. Robin Anderson followed suit at #1 singles by the score of 6-1, 6-3. Kaitlin Ray finished the match with a 3 set victory at #6 singles. The fact that the 4th point was won with a 3 set victory shows that the other matches would have come down to the wire. But 4-0 in the semis was the final result, and it was on to the championship.
In the championship match, Harrison and McPhillips dominated at #2 doubles 8-2, and when Anderson and Brady won at #1 doubles in a tiebreaker, the doubles point once again belonged to the Bruins. And here is where the fun really started. Anderson won at #1 singles easily 6-2, 6-2. The Bruins were up 2-0. But then Brady lost at #2 singles (her first loss of the postseason), and Harrison lost at #5 singles (also her first loss of the postseason), to even the match at 2-2.
Van Nguyen finished next with a 3 set win at #4 singles to keep her postseason record perfect. But Ray lost a 3 set match at #6 singles to knot the match up again at 3-3. So it all came down to #3 singles Kyle McPhillips. And McPhillips sealed the deal, with a 6-4, 3-6, 6-4 victory. The final game featured four championship points, as if it weren't nerve wracking enough already.
So here is to Robin Anderson (jr), Jennifer Brady (fr), Kyle McPhillips (so), Chanelle Van Nguyen (jr), Catherine Harrison (so), Kaitlin Ray (jr) and Courtney Dolehide (sr). You have done yourselves proud, you have done your teammates proud, and you have done your school proud.
And here's also to Coach Stella Sampras Webster. This is UCLA's second national title under her watch. Sampras Webster was already the head coach when Doughnut darkened Morgan Center's doorstep. But she has brought UCLA women's tennis to the heights, despite the apparent inability of the Athletic Department to stop confusing the men's and women's teams.
Congrats to Coach Sampras Webster and all the members of the UCLA National Champion Women's Tennis Team.