The No. 36-ranked Long Beach State women’s tennis team is hoping that the third time will be the charm as it prepares to face No. 27 Pepperdine in the first round of the NCAA tournament on Saturday at the Stanford Regional in Palo Alto, Calif. Start time is scheduled for 9 a.m.
The 49ers (20-5) and the Waves (14-7) are no strangers to each other. Apart from holding a 0-2 all-time record against Pepperdine in the NCAA tournament, the Beach has lost to the Waves twice in the past two years in the regular season.
“Last time [in March] and the year before, we lost 4-3, so I feel like we’re getting closer and closer,” LBSU’s No. 1 singles player Anais Dallara said. “I feel like this is our time to do it. . . . We’re just rolling right now.”
LBSU will be heading into Saturday’s contest with an eight-match winning streak, matching its season high while dropping just two out of 11 singles matches in the Big West Conference tournament.
“I think we’ve bonded as a team and we’ve got a lot closer,” No. 4 singles player Rachel Manasse said. “Our games just got stronger with more matches. . . . We’re starting to click.”
Though the ‘Niners are confident going into the matchup, it will be without the services of No. 2 singles player Klaudia Malenovska, who holds the best overall winning percentage on the team (.792) with a 19-5 record this season.
Malenovska was also one of LBSU’s two players to record a victory in singles play against the Waves in March, with the other being Dallara.
Malenovska tore the ACL in her right knee when she was forced to withdraw from her semifinals match against the University of Pacific’s Julia Hansen in the Big West tournament.
LBSU head coach Jenny Hilt-Costello said Malenovska will be undergoing surgery in early June and is expected to be at full strength in December.
“I think everyone would love to have her out there,” Hilt-Costello said. “She’s been a big part of the success [of this team], but everyone is playing well and I think they’re looking at this as an opportunity. . . . But I still think our matchups from top to bottom, we can still win every one of them.”
As a result, each player on the team will be moving up a spot in the lineup, including Anna Jeczmionka, who has been inserted into the sixth and final slot.
Taking over Malenovska’s voided No. 2 spot will be Deborah Armstrong, who usually starts at the No. 3, which will be filled by Manasse.
Filling in at No. 4 will be Jaklin Alawi, followed by Sarah Cantlay at the No. 5 spot.
“I think sometimes when you get bumped up to a higher position, you can play a little bit more freely,” Hilt-Costello said. “It’s like ‘hey I’m up here, I’m just gonna go for it, swing away and see what happens.'”
If LBSU should defeat Pepperdine in the first round, the Beach could potentially face tournament host, No. 1 Stanford, which is the only undefeated team in the nation. The Cardinal hold a 42-game winning streak and hasn’t lost at home in 12 years.
“You never know what might happen that day,” Hilt-Costello said of the 49ers’ chances of upsetting Stanford. “The goal right now is to get past Pepperdine and get the chance to play the No. 1 team in the country.”
Dallara added: “If we should play Stanford [in the second round], it will be a great challenge for us to see where we’re at compared to the No. 1 team in the nation.”