Entering the season, head coach Stella Sampras made no secret to the fact that the 2000 Bruins were the most talented group of players she?s had since taking over the program in 1997. After all, UCLA had three returning All-Americans in Amanda Basica, Annica Cooper and Elizabeth Schmidt. Add freshmen Sara Walker and Abigail Spears and the addition of a healthy Cristina Popescu to the mix and UCLA?s top-six was as good as anybody?s in the country. Sampras, however, knew that the key to winning a national title in 2000 depended on UCLA staying healthy, and when it was all said and done, injuries just might have cost the Bruins a legitimate shot at their second national title.
Popescu, a former No. 1 player who has been riddled with injuries since arriving in Westwood in 1997, did not play a singles match all season. Zana Zlebnik, a top-20 player at Texas Tech before transferring to UCLA, played in just four matches. Petya Marinova saw action in just 11 of the Bruins? 26 dual matches.
Despite all the injuries, UCLA knocked off Texas in the round of 16 at the NCAA Championships, setting up a quarterfinal showdown with undefeated Stanford. In the end, however, a very experienced and much healthier Cardinal squad outlasted UCLA, ending the Bruins season pre-maturely. UCLA finished with a 17-9 overall record and a second-place finish in the highly competitive Pac-10 Conference. The Bruins finished sixth in the final ITA team rankings, exactly where they started to begin the season.
Probably the biggest surprise individually for Sampras and the Bruins in 2000 was Walker?s rapid transition from juniors to the college level. The 2000 Pac-10 Freshman of the Year, Walker finished the season with a 35-10 overall record, earning first-team All-Pac-10 and All-America honors. UCLA?s No. 1 player the entire season, she ended the year ranked fourth in the final ITA singles rankings, winning the Pac-10 Championship.
Spears and transfer Catherine Hawley were also pleasant surprises for UCLA last year. Spears, a Pac-10 honorable mention selection, finished second only to Walker in victories with 28. Hawley posted 19 wins on the season primarily at the No. 6 position.
The Bruins? All-American trio of Basica, Cooper and Schmidt attributed for almost half of UCLA?s victories last season, helping the Bruins pull regular-season upsets over Texas, USC and Cal. For her efforts, Cooper was named a second-team All-Pac-10 selection, and all three went on to earn All-Pac-10 Academic honors.