For the fourth time in the last seven years, UC Irvine’s women’s tennis team went to the Big West championship match, and for the fourth time in the last seven years, Long Beach took home the title.
The 49ers have been the monkey on the Anteaters’ back for longer than the women’s team would like to remember, but junior Clare Fermin and freshman Becka Kwan are pulling out all the stops next year.
If UCI’s dynamic duo has anything to do with it, the elusive championship trophy will evade them no longer.
After crushing Pacific 5-0 in the first round of the Big West tournament, the Anteaters cruised past Northridge in a decisive 4-0 beating. Hoping to finally dethrone Long Beach, the 49ers remained a thorn in UCI’s side, ending its late season surge with a 4-0 defeat.
It was an ending Fermin recognized all too well.
“I was feeling really confident going in, because when we played them in the season we lost 6-1, but the matches were a lot closer than the scores were. Every match was really close. I thought we definitely could have won it,” Fermin said.
While it may not serve as much condolence for this year’s frustrating ending, there’s every reason to believe that next year holds a promising future for the Anteaters, particularly for Fermin. If history is an indicator of anything, she should only continue to improve in her senior year—that’s all she’s ever done at UCI.
As a freshman, Fermin went 12-8 in singles, then 17-7 her sophomore year, earning her an All-Big West Honorable Mention. She also received All-Big West First Team in doubles with Becky Bernhard. This season she continued collecting the accolades as she received All-Big West Honorable Mention in singles and in doubles with Kwan as her partner.
Throughout her entire tennis career, Fermin has always been surrounded by more experienced players. When she was first learning to play tennis, her mom would pay men’s college players to play against her. While the experience was more humbling than encouraging to her ego, it paid off. She dominated at Troy High School before following her sister’s path to UCI.
Being the youngest of her two sisters couldn’t have hurt Fermin’s development either.
When she wasn’t chasing down balls hit by collegiate players, she was on the court with her older sisters Nikki and Serena—both of whom played tennis in college, Nikki at UCI and Serena at Loyola Marymount.
However, Fermin will now prepare to be looked at as a paragon in the women’s tennis program. She will be one of three seniors on the team next year, and the one with the most accolades under her belt.
“We’ll need more leadership [next season] because we’re getting three new freshmen. From what I’ve heard, they’re good players and they already have the talent, so it’s just a matter of directing them in the right direction—motivating them,” Fermin said.
She’s certainly helped her doubles partner Kwan begin her collegiate career in the right direction. Together they led the team with a 6-1 record in doubles matches, earning them an All-Big West Honorable Mention in doubles.
“I thought it was pretty impressive since we had only been playing together since April. To get an award already is pretty cool,” Fermin said.
But they may never have received the honorable mention if it weren’t for Kwan’s strict “apple-a-day” policy.
“I started [a superstition] this year. I have to eat an apple. The first bite has to be before we start the match. Then it goes throughout the match. It has to be a green apple. I tried a red one, it was disgusting—it was in the Big West, at Long Beach,” Kwan said.
No wonder the 49ers prevailed.
Fermin doesn’t rely on fruit to propel her game, but she employs rituals of her own.
“I’m not very superstitious because if you win, you win. You earned it. I have more of a routine,” Fermin said. “In between matches I’ll stand there and kind of slide my foot. It’s kind of a mental image for clarity and starting over. I just do it with my right foot.”
This tactic comes in handy especially when she gets unjustly overruled. One moment in particular stands out.
“It was deuce and [my opponent] was serving, she went out wide, I called it out, but I guess the referee wasn’t looking at it and he said the ball was good. I was like, ‘Were you even watching?’ I almost went John McEnroe on him,” Fermin said. “You can’t control everything. I just try to control what I can.”
For Fermin, that means a re-vamped offseason workout.
“This year I’m going to play more tournaments and train more during the summer. Last year I enjoyed my summer and used September and October to get back in the mix of things. I’m going to start doing that really soon so I’ll be ready from the very beginning of the year,” Fermin said.
The extra commitment should definitely translate into another improved season for Fermin. Any improvements from this year could translate into a Big West championship for the Anteaters. Getting there has never been the hard part—beating Long Beach is the missing piece to a happy ending.
“I’m definitely looking forward to next year, losing this season really hurt. Our team is even hungrier to win next year and bring a title to the school,” Fermin said.
If Kwan is hungry for her green apples before every match, that hunger may be satiated next April.