Expectations were high entering the 1998 women's tennis season as the Bruins brought a No. 2 ranking into the spring season. Unfortunately, injuries played a key factor as UCLA finished tied for ninth in the NCAA Championships to finish with a 17-11 dual match record and a final ranking of No. 14.
In Pac-10 Conference play, UCLA posted a 5-3 slate to place fourth in the league. UCLA claimed both matches from crosstown rival USC, but only one counted as a league victory. One of the high points of the season came on April 3, when UCLA claimed a home win over No. 1-ranked Stanford, but the Cardinal returned the favor on the road in the official Pac-10 meeting of the season. The Bruins opened Pac-10 action splitting a pair of 5-4 decisions in the desert and seeing that split recur at home. Cal joined ASU as the only conference foes to win both matches over UCLA. The Bruins claimed three matches from the northernmost Pac-10 schools.
Non-conference action was also tough on the Bruins as UCLA posted a 9-6 record in matches against non-Pac-10 teams, three of those during NCAA Regional action. Texas posted a pair of wins over UCLA, including the final match in the first round of the NCAA Championships. Local rival Pepperdine also notched two wins over UCLA while William & Mary and Mississippi posted wins in the National Indoor Championships. The Bruins did post regular-season victories over UC Irvine, No. 64 Utah, No. 75 Loyola Marymount, No. 17 South Alabama, No. 37 UNLV and No. 63 Boise State, in addition to their three wins in the NCAA Midwest Regional at Illinois.
Individually, the Bruins saw three players qualifying for the NCAA Singles Championships and one earn All-America honors.
UCLA entered the fall season with Amanda Basica slated to take over the No. 1 position in the singles lineup, however the sophomore transfer from the University of Florida suffered a shoulder injury in December and missed the entire dual match season. Basica made her dual-match debut in the No. 5 slot at the NCAA Regional and also played in the first round of the NCAA Championships in that position.
Stepping into the top slot was sophomore Annica Cooper, who played in the No. 3 position most of the previous season. Cooper emerged as a solid No. 1 player, finishing 18-9 in duals and leading the squad with a 33-14 overall record while earning Pac-10 Conference Player of the Year honors and repeating her All-America status.
The No. 2 position started out with sophomore Elizabeth Schmidt holding that slot. However, freshman Cristina Popescu battled back from a sore shoulder of her own to take over at No. 2 as of Feb. 28. This move allowed Schmidt to play in the No. 3 slot and regain enough momentum to earn her second consecutive berth into the NCAA singles draw along with Cooper. Popescu also competed in the NCAA singles draw and was named the West Region Rookie of the Year.
The best dual-match record of the season (20-8) belonged to senior co-captain Kelly Rudolph who anchored the No. 4 position most of the season. Senior Kati Kocsis was yet another Bruin hampered by injury as she missed the entire fall and competed primarily in the No. 5 slot, after spending the previous year at the top of the singles lineup. Rounding out the lineup most of the season was junior Brandi Freudenberg who went 15-10 in the No. 5 and 6 positions. Sophomore Katia Roubanova also suffered injuries which prevented her from contributing in singles.
Due in large part to the injury factor, doubles play was an area of concern throughout the season as health issues played a role in every combination. The No. 1 slot was primarily handled by Roubanova and Schmidt, but the duo was not up to the All-American standard they set the year before as rookies. Cooper and Kocsis also struggled in the No. 2 slot. The No. 3 position saw Popescu team with Freudenberg most frequently as at last six combinations saw action in each of the three doubles positions.
Bruins in the '97-'98 ITA Rankings Throughout the Year
Team PS Fall Feb. 1 2 3 4 5 Final UCLA 2 2 NTR 13 14 16 14 14 14
Singles PS Fall Feb. 1 2 3 4 5 Final Cooper 21 - 26 19 t15 14 15 9 12 Popescu 70 71 49 t36 t39 36 31 32 33 Schmidt 28 97 - - - - 73 60 72 Basica 11 4 11 15 - - - - -
Ranked only in preseason: Kocsis 10, Rudolph 60, Roubanova 50
Doubles PS Fall Feb. 1 2 3 4 5 Final Basica/Cooper NR 12 23 - - - - - -
Ranked only in preseason doubles: Roubanova/Schmidt 7, Cooper/Kocsis 11, Popescu/Basica 23