Conference tournament in Ojai to provide tune-up for NCAAs

Photo: Mari Andersson will team up with Jana Juricova as the country's top-ranked doubles pair during this week's Pac-10 Championships in Ojai, Calif.
Jeffrey Joh/File
Mari Andersson will team up with Jana Juricova as the country's top-ranked doubles pair during this week's Pac-10 Championships in Ojai, Calif.

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The main thing Catalina Visico remembers about the Pac-10 Championships had nothing to do with tennis - it was the strawberry shortcakes the junior had in the town of Ojai, Calif.

"Every year, the strawberry shortcakes are what I look forward to in Ojai," Visico said. "Every time Jana (Juricova) and I arrive in Ojai, that is the first thing that we get."

Like the strawberry shortcakes, the annual trip to Ojai is always a sweet experience for No. 8 Cal women's tennis team. From today until Sunday, the Bears will compete at the Ojai Valley Tennis Club against players from all schools in the conference for the Pac-10 singles and doubles titles.

The tennis club has held an annual tournament since 1898, making it the oldest tennis competition in California. With 111 years of history under its belt, the tennis club and the town display a tennis-infatuated atmosphere that is usually only found on the other side of the Atlantic.

"It always has a really great crowd and they have traditions, like afternoon tea in the park," Cal coach Amanda Augustus said. "It's sort of like Wimbledon, with all its traditions down in Ojai."

The Pac-10 Championships will not affect any team standings. Unlike the season matches, in which the squads in addition to the players are declared winners or losers, the tournament only looks at the individual performances.

The tournament is divided into two: the Pac-10 Championships and the Pac-10 Invitational. The former is for the top 32 singles players and top 16 doubles partnerships in the conference; the rest plays in the Invitational.

Every season, the Bears normally send four singles players and two doubles tandems to the Championships, and this year is no exception. Although No. 1 Juricova will sit out the singles tournament, she and senior Mari Andersson have the top seed in the doubles competition.

In the midst of preparation for the NCAA Championships next month, the competition is an excellent test for Cal. The tournament provides a chance for inexperienced, lower ranked players to play and learn from some of the best players in the nation. If they are able to perform well this weekend, it can also boost up their national rankings and a favorable seeding at the NCAA Singles and Doubles Championships.

The Pac-10 Championships also serve as a litmus test for the Bears' stamina. Playing two consecutive matches a day for four days under the low 80s weather, the tournament can become very taxing to some players.

"Ojai can become such a grind with three days of back-to-back matches," Visico said. "It is similar to the NCAAs where we have to play mentally draining matches every day. Ojai brings the team together for the NCAAs."


Seung Y. Lee covers women's tennis.

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