The young talent of the UC Irvine Women’s Tennis team is going to ensure success for many years down the road. However, against UC Santa Barbara, their lack of experience was instrumental in a heartbreaking conference loss.
With the total points tied at three apiece, the winner of the final singles match would have given their team a victory. Young UCI freshman Ali Borowicz held a 4-2 lead in the third-set tiebreaker, but was unable to slam the door on UCSB’s senior Leslie Damion. Damion rallied back, scoring five of the next six points including match point when Borowicz hit the ball directly into the net. The April 7 tiebreaker win at Anteater Tennis Stadium gave Damion a 7-5, 3-6, 7-6 (7-5) victory and UCSB a 4-3 victory overall. ‘Ali had a great overall performance,’ said UCI Head Coach Mike Edles. ‘She has one of the best records on the team [20-9] and she has been a great player for us all season. Her opponent had more experience and that factor did play in toward the tiebreaker. Ali was a little tentative and that was the difference in the game.’
The loss was something new for the Anteaters (11-9, 3-2 Big West) as they had won seven of their last eight games but further illustrated their inability to focus early in their matches.
UCI started the match very slowly as they committed many unforced errors and fell into large early deficits. They were swept in the doubles matches 8-3, 9-8, 8-6, giving UC Santa Barbara (13-7, 6-1) its first point of the match.
‘We just have to do a better job getting the girls focused on the game early on,’ Edles said. ‘This team is tough and they really have to want it more than their opponents. We need to come out with intensity and start the match off strong.’
The Anteaters were left with the daunting task of having to win four of their final five singles matches when UCSB’s Andrea Pintar made quick work of frustrated UCI Anteater Ashley Siddall, 6-1, 6-0. However, the pieces started to fit slowly for Irvine, which has always fared better in singles matches than doubles this season, according to junior Jayme Hu.
‘We are definitely a lot stronger in singles than the doubles,’ Hu said. ‘I am guessing because our team is more singles – orientated since that is more natural for our players. I don’t really know why, but that has been our trend all year.’
On the fourth court, UCI’s Heidi Kaloj fought a tough match and held off UCSB’s Charlotte Scatiffe, 7-6, 7-5 while Irvine’s Clare Fermin took care of Santa Barbara’s Brittany Kausen, 6-2, 6-3 on the sixth court. After the Anteaters lost with Marielle Grueing beating UCI’s Becky Bernhard, 6-3, 6-2, the Anteaters needed to win the final two matches to avoid defeat.
The team turned to sophomore Inna Agababian – recently named Big West Player of the Week – to keep their comeback hopes alive. Agababian dominated the first set 6- 1, but gave up an early lead in the second set and lost 6-7. Even after playing over three-and-a-half hours of tennis, Agababian finally broke UCSB’s Chelsea Glynn’s serve in the fifth game and won the final set 6-3. Even with her individual win, Agababian was disappointed in the team’s loss.
‘We played an average overall game,’ Agababian said. ‘We lost, so that doesn’t help in the standings, but we will learn and hopefully grow as a result.’
As fans rushed to see the decisive final tiebreaker between Borowicz and Damion, it seemed like Santa Barbara had everything lined up their favor. Damion, a UCSB senior, played in an earlier doubles match while the freshman Borowicz did not. During Damion’s final run, Borowicz beat herself. She had a chance to serve out the match while she was up five games to four, but had her serve broken. She then committed six unforced errors and gave up numerous points on her own serve during the tiebreaker.
Edles expressed mixed emotions at the end of the game, but was proud of his players. ‘We have to have higher levels of intensity and focus on a more consistent basis,’ Edles said. ‘It is an important lesson to learn and hopefully we can learn it by the end of the season.’