PASADENA, Calif. (Jan. 28, 2017) – Fresh off the team's best conference finish in a decade and welcoming its first ranked recruiting class in program history, Caltech women's tennis would appear to have the pieces to solidify its position in the middle of the SCIAC pack while challenging for its highest ever regional ranking in 2017.
"I'm so excited about this team," Head Coach Mandy Gamble said. "The mix of talented freshmen and experienced upperclassmen couldn't be better, and they've already developed great chemistry as a team. The improvement even since our most successful ITA ever is definitely noticeable. I can't wait to see what we can accomplish."
Sophomores Julia Reisler (Plano, Texas / Greenhill) and Kana Moriyama (Redmond, Wash. / Redmond) are back after a pair of stellar rookie seasons in which each posted an 11-6 dual record. Reisler notched the program's first individual win against a regionally ranked opponent since 2014 NCAA participant Rebekah Kitto while posting a 9-5 mark at #2 singles and 8-5 ledger at #3 doubles. Her exploits earned her just the third All-SCIAC recognition in program history. Meanwhile, Moriyama went 8-5 at #3 singles and paired with junior Erin Wang (Auburn, Calif. / Del Oro) to notch a 6-5 record at #2 doubles. If their successful Fall ITA performance is any indication – Reisler reached the semifinals of the second consolation bracket and Moriyama made it to the finals of the first conso – last year may only have been the beginning of two very memorable careers.
"Julia showed some real fight as a freshman and is eager to lead the team at the top of the singles lineup," Gamble said. "Kana absolutely refused to give up in some tough matches and ended up pulling out just about all her three-setters, including some key clinching matches for us. With a year of experience, they're only going to keep getting better."
An infusion of new talent in the middle of the lineup will be key to the Beavers' push for their first win over a nationally ranked opponent. Rookies Alexandra Bodrova (Russia / Kurchatovskaya School) and Angelica Zhou (Temple City, Calif. / Arcadia) each enter Caltech with considerable talent and experience and overcame minor adverse conditions to impress in their fall debuts, claiming first-round victories in the ITA before bowing out to a pair of seeded opponents. Bodrova's athleticism and power will make her a formidable opponent, particularly lower in the lineup, while Zhou's billing as a top recruit (No. 185 in the nation) portends a bright future.
"It was great to get a look at Sasha and Angelica in the fall – they overcame some typical freshman nerves and still being in the first week of school to play some fantastic matches," Gamble said. "They both are exceptional athletes and instantly raised the level of our practices. I'm sensitive to the fact that they both took some time off before this season, so their roles will become clearer as we allow them to develop and ultimately flourish at their own pace."
After shouldering the mantle of the team's elder statesman as just a junior, Sophia Chen (Newport Beach, Calif. / Corona Del Mar) is set to reprise her role as the squad looks to come full circle under her leadership. The graduation of Kitto and other key departures left Chen in position to step up to #1 singles with barely a year under her belt, but the past two recruiting classes have allowed her to slide back into the bottom half of the lineup, where she found considerable success last year, going 5-2 at #4. She also will team with junior Vinci Chen (Austin, Texas / Westwood), last year's regular #1 in the singles lineup, once more in doubles. The experience gained struggling through a 1-10 gauntlet at the top spot last season should pay dividends further down the order, particularly if the freshmen can settle into the #2 spot early. Rounding out the roster, Wang is another battle-tested veteran who has experienced arguably the most success of any player over the last two years, posting a 6-8 record at #4 and incredible 11-3 mark at #5 singles in addition to an 8-8 line at #2 doubles and 3-0 at #3. She will look to lock down the #5 or #6 singles spot as one of the team's most reliable contributors.
"The upperclasmen have done a fantastic job mentoring the freshmen and developing a chemistry that is just wonderful," Gamble said. "They've started the season more prepared than any team I've coached, and most importantly are enjoying themselves – when good tennis players do that, good results always follow."
Caltech begins the season with a flight to Oregon for matches against No. 35 Linfield College and West region No. 18 George Fox University. The Beavers will face a minimum of eight nationally ranked teams and a further four ranked West region foes as they look to better the program high-water mark of No. 11 in the West region back in 2014.
"We are taking one match at a time and every school we play is an opportunity for us," Gamble said. "We have a big challenge ahead with what is probably the strongest schedule we have ever played, but if we've ever had a team that can rise to meet it, this one can."