UCR women’s tennis team (5-9, 0-4) matched up against conference opponent and number one seed UC Santa Barbara (9-6, 3-0) on Thursday, April 4. The match was especially significant because the Highlanders only have three remaining conference matchups before the Big West Tournament and are currently in ninth place in the conference.
Although Riverside had won three of its previous four matches, this match was the first since returning from finals and spring break and it definitely looked like it. UCR lost across the board, failing to earn a single point on their way to a 7-0 loss.
Despite the disheartening score, Head Coach Mark Henry was pleased with his team’s play given the circumstances, saying, “Santa Barbara’s a really tough team. Probably the top team in our conference. The first match after finals and break is always a little tricky, but we came out and worked really well, worked hard.”
The Highlanders did show fight and managed to make some second sets interesting. Freshman Natalie Shamma bounced back in a huge way in the second set, forcing a much closer 7-5 finish after going down 6-2 in the previous set. Shamma also showcased her competitive spirit in this matchup, often showing her displeasure with her own performance and at one point the line judge. Freshman Hanh Pham was the only Highlander who won a set in her matchup, winning the second set 7-6 to force a third set.
This far into the season, Riverside has had to rely heavily on their freshman players and for the most part they have come through, earning 24 of the total 36 singles wins. Going forward, the freshman will have to continue to play a huge part if Riverside hopes to be successful down the stretch of the regular season and in the Big West Tournament. “I think they’re feeling like they’re pretty ready,” Henry said when asked if he believes the freshmen are ready to produce results in high-pressure situations. “They’ll be a little more prepared next week because it’s settling back into the routine of practice and weights and all the things that we do.”
UCR will have a chance to move up in the standings on Saturday, April 6 as they face off against the number eight seed Cal State Northridge, who is only a game ahead of them in the win column. However, the 23rd-year head coach isn’t currently concerned with seeding. “Everybody in the conference, especially all the teams around us are so close,” Henry said. “We just focus on who’s the next team and preparing to play our best for that next team. Anything can happen.”