STILLWATER, Okla. — Sofia Blanco could sense victory was in hand, only two games away from a win in straight sets. Her back thought differently.
Blanco, who had fought through an Oklahoma State loss the day before at Arkansas despite nagging back pain, nearly earned her team a singles point before the toll of two singles sets and one doubles set was too much.
The Cordoba, Argentina, native ended up losing her second set despite a big lead and only made it two games into the third before she had to retire from the match.
Her forfeited point and fellow senior Marina Guinart’s twisted ankle costing her a point, as well, was too much for OSU to overcome on Saturday afternoon in the Michael and Anne Greenwood Tennis Center.
The Cowgirls lost to the University of California-Los Angeles 4-1 as the two injuries and a slow start in the doubles point turned the advantage in the favor of an already powerful Bruin squad.
“Those two girls haven’t lost all season, so our two best points this year to not be able to complete due to injury changes the dynamic a bit,” OSU coach Chris Young said. “We didn’t start very well in doubles. I thought UCLA came out and played with great energy, they played with great purpose and I feel like we still had a bit of a hangover from last night and didn’t start out well and we had to dig ourselves out of a big hole.”
While Blanco’s injury was a gradual situation the team was monitoring, Guinart’s was a freak accident. The Castellar Del Valles, Spain, native went to retrieve a ball that was rolling on the court when she stepped on it with her right foot, twisting her ankle. She would play a while more before the pain overcame her, having not even finished her first set.
Young said he has never been a part of a match where two players had to retire due to injury.
“There is a lot of things that happened this weekend that hasn’t happened in a while,” Young said. “It is rare and hopefully it is something that both of their injuries are things that won’t keep them out for long.”
Despite the injuries playing a big spot in No. 5 UCLA’s win, Young said he thought a culprit was how the Cowgirls came out to start the match. Reeling from a 4-3 loss to unranked Arkansas the day before, Young said the team came out flat and allowed the Bruins to get 3-0 leads on each of the three courts before OSU started to rally. It was too late, though.
“I don’t know that we necessarily needed the doubles point, we just didn’t start the way we need to,” Young said. “We needed to be more competitive and when you get there and are down 3-0 on all three courts, it makes it tough and gave them a lot of confidence. They are coming into a difficult place on the road but then get off to a good start that relaxes them. We needed to give them a little more adversity and we started to see that and then everything started to even up. We have to do a better job of starting.”
The only ranked duo for the Cowgirls – No. 28 pairing of Blanco and freshman Catherine Gulihur – lost 6-2 on court 1 to the No. 6 pair of Gabby Andrews and Ayan Broomfield.
Lisa Marie Rioux and Guinart followed with a 6-3 loss to No. 12 Jada Hart and Elysia Bolton, putting the Cowgirls (4-3) in a hole.
No. 9 OSU started to gain its wits in the singles round, looking on par against the Bruins as the sellout crowd of 350 started to give the Cowgirls some momentum.
Gulihur gave OSU its first point with a 6-3, 6-2 win over Taylor Johnson on Court 6 as she shook off being the final loss against the Razorbacks to ensuring she would take care of business against UCLA.
“I think it was a really good bounce back from how I played against Arkansas the other day because it was a really tough loss for me and the team,” Gulihur said. “Coming back and being able to play so strong and being on top of my game and having the energy that I did was really a good confidence booster for me.”
Gulihur said another motivator for her to win the match was seeing Guinart go down on the court next to her and being forced to retire.
“I am sitting there on a chair on the changeover and Marina is getting her ankle wrapped up and then she steps up and cant walk and then I think, ‘Oh no, Oh my gosh,’ then I thought to myself that I have to stay calm and stay collected and play this match,” Gulihur said.
Young said he liked what he saw out of Gulihur and the freshman herself said she has gained confidence in her short time thanks to help from Young and student assistant Vladica Babic, who was by Gulihur’s side for most of the day.
Babic, a former All-American for the Cowgirls whose eligibility expired last season, is helping the Cowgirls when she can while finishing her degree and playing professionally.
Outside of Gulihur, the Cowgirls couldn’t muster a point as Bunyawi Thamchaiwat fell to Bolton. That left Katarina Stresnakova – who was starting on Court 1 for the first time all season – and Rioux unfinished as the Bruins (3-0) clinched the match.
Young said he gave the nod to Stresnakova because she had earned the spot, but just needed time to recovery from an October ankle surgery, and he through Thamchaiwat did well despite the loss.
“For B, she hasn’t really caught a break because everyone has played so well against her and she has found out that college tennis is really tough, but she is going to get stronger from it,” Young said. “You want your young kids to go through those difficult battles early and get tested. She is one that can handle it and she is going to stay tough and I think our lineup will develop more because of that.”
Up next for the Cowgirls is the ITA National Indoor Championships in Seattle, Washington, which start Thursday. Young feels like OSU will go into the 16-team field strong and if Guinart and Blanco can’t go, then Gulihur and Tamara Arnold will have to step up.
No matter the result, Young was happy for the crowd Saturday and hopes to see more of that when the Cowgirls have another home match on March 8 vs. Gonzaga.
“It is just unfortunate that we couldn’t be at 100 percent today, but that is the nature of sports and life,” Young said. “We don’t have any easy matches on the schedule and that is why players come to Oklahoma State is because of the tough schedule. Sometime that doesn’t give you enough time to catch your breath, but it makes us stronger in the end.”