Late last month, the Pepperdine Waves women’s tennis squad took their racquets to a place no other Waves team armed with a tennis racquets had been before—points away from a national title.
Pepperdine’s fifth-ranked team advanced through five rounds of the 64-team NCAA Women’s Tennis Team Championship before falling in the tournament’s finale to second-ranked Texas, 4-3, on May 22.
Waves tennis player Jessica Failla, a graduate student, said having a shot at the national crown was exciting.
“We worked so hard this year,” she said. “There have obviously been so many challenges playing amidst a pandemic, so we were really grateful we were able to play well and have a really good run at the end of the year. It was hard for us to come up short. We were literally one point away from being national champions.”
Falllia, named an ITA All-American this spring, said all season Pepperdine believed they had a shot at winning the NCAA tournament.
“I think that helped us so much to get to where we did,” she said. “We all believed in ourselves so much.”
The Waves women’s tennis team’s success wasn’t the only tournament achievement Pepperdine tennis had in May’s tournament play. Failla advanced to the Sweet 16 in the NCAA Singles Tournament three days after she and her teammates played in the national title match. The Pepperdine men’s tennis team advanced to the second round of the men’s team tournament on May 8. Men’s squad tandem Guy Den Ouden, a freshman, and Adrian Oetzbach, a graduate student, advanced to the NCAA Doubles Tournament semifinals on May 27.
Failla and her doubles partner Shiori Fukuda, another graduate student, were defeated in the first round of the 32-pair doubles tournament on May 24. Women’s player Ashley Lahey, another graduate student—the 2021 West Coast Conference Player of the Year and three-time All-American—was beaten in the opening round of the singles event.
The Waves women’s tennis squad’s championship game run began on May 7 when the group downed Northern Arizona in the tournament’s opening round at Pepperdine’s Ralphs-Straus Tennis Center. Pepperdine beat Stanford, 4-2, in the second round the next day, also in Malibu. The Waves defeated Michigan, 4-0, on May 16 in a third-round match held at the USTA National Campus in Florida. That victory propelled the squad to the tournament’s quarterfinals, a feat no Pepperdine team, despite qualifying for the tournament for 19 straight years, had done before. There, on May 19, the Waves beat UCLA, 4-3.
Perhaps the biggest win in program history came next. Pepperdine ousted No. 1-ranked North Carolina from the tournament. The Waves beat the top-rated squad, 4-3, to advance to the national championship contest.
Failla said there was talk that the Waves’ win over North Carolina was one of the biggest upsets ever.
“We didn’t feel that way,” Failla said of her and her teammates. “We really believed in ourselves and we went out there and played and won.”
In singles play against Texas, Failla beat Texas’ Anna Turati, 6-2, 6-3, and sophomore Lisa Zaar triumphed over Texas’ Kylie Collins, 6-3, 7-6 (7-3). Nikki Redelijk, a Pepperdine freshman, defeated Malaika Rapolu, 6-4, 7-5.
A Pepperdine tandem of Fukuda and freshman Taisiya Pachkaleva gained the Waves’ lone win in three doubles matches against Texas. They beat Turati and Fernanda Labrana, 6-1.
In the singles tournament, Failla defeated Denver’s Anna Riedmiller, 7-6 (5), 7-6 (4), in the first round and knocked off Old Dominion’s Yulia Starodubsteva, 6-0, 6-0, in the second round. She was beaten by North Carolina’s Sara Daavettila, 6-3, 6-2, in the round of 16.
Lahey was downed by North Carolina State’s Anna Rogers, 7-5, 4-6, 6-3, in the first round.
In the doubles event, Failla and Fukuda fell to NC State pair Jaeda Daniel and Adriana Reami 7-6(2), 7-6(4) in the round of 32.
The Pepperdine men’s team, ranked 28th nationally, beat UC-Santa Barbara, 4-1, in the opening round of the NCAA tournament. The group was beaten, 4-2, by USC, ranked 12th, in the next round.
Ouden and Oetzbach’s loss in the semifinals of the NCAA Doubles Tournament was 6-4, 6-1 to Auburn’s Finn Murgett and Tad Maclean.
The Waves ITA All-Americans’ tournament play began with a 6-3, 6-3 win over Florida’s Sam Riffice and Duarte Vale. Ouden and Oetzbach beat Georgia twosome Trent Bryde and Tyler Zink, 6-4, 5-7, 1-0(4), in the round of 16. In the Quarterfinals, the Pepperdine duo beat Minnesota’s Siim Troost and Vlad Lobak, 6-3, 3-6, 1-0(4).
Failla said the Waves’ heavy participation in the NCAA postseason puts Pepperdine on the map in the world of tennis.
“That is really exciting because we have all worked really hard,” she said. “It was amazing; down in Florida, so many people didn’t know what Pepperdine was or had never heard of it before. This was a really good opportunity for us to show what a great tennis school and a great school in general Pepperdine is.”