When Brittany Blalock first went to the NCAA Championships two years ago, she had a different view on the 32-team single-elimination doubles tournament.
Then, Blalock and sophomore teammate Steffi Wong were postseason rookies who’d already accomplished their goal of becoming the first Cal Poly women’s doubles team to make it to the NCAA Championships.
This time — as Blalock and fellow senior partner Suzie Matzenauer are prepared for today’s 1:30 p.m. first-round matchup with Csilla Borsanyi and Lenka Broosova, the No. 11-ranked duo from Baylor — she’s looking to make a bigger impact.
Blalock and Matzenauer can become the first Mustangs to win an NCAA Division I postseason match, but in their final season of collegiate competition, they’re each looking for more than that.
Never miss a local story.
“Our biggest difference is when I went my sophomore year, we were just really excited to make it to the NCAAs,” Blalock said. “This year, both Suzie and I are happy to play here, and we both want to be an All-American, and it takes two rounds to be an All-American.”
Both players wield big first serves, and getting them in play could be the key to victory against Borsanyi and Broosova. The Baylor duo is well known for its return skills, Cal Poly head coach Hugh Bream said.
A team that was only just paired to start the spring season, Blalock and Matzenauer ascended as high as No. 26 in the Campbell’s ITA Rankings during a 17-3 regular season in which they received the Big West Conference’s automatic NCAA berth for the conference’s highest-ranked team.
“People have been playing together for years in college, and we started five or six months ago,” Matzenauer said. “Every match we played, we got more and more comfortable with each other.
“We have a connection. We just know what the other person’s doing on the court.”
For most of her Cal Poly career, Blalock played alongside Wong. Matzenauer transferred to Cal Poly prior to last season after playing her first two years at Northwestern and quickly became one of the Mustangs’ best singles players.
Prior to this season, Bream had the idea to pair his two top singles players together, hoping they would jell.
With Blalock playing the mild-mannered baseline specialist and Matzenauer as the fiery poacher, the contrast in styles has made a potent mix.
The Mustangs finished 16-7 overall and in a three-way tie for second in the Big West. Cal Poly was almost automatic winning the doubles point, especially while Wong and freshman Alexa Lee enjoyed tremendous success as the No. 2 team.
Blalock and Matzenauer were undefeated in Big West play and even took a signature 8-5 victory over the No. 2-ranked team in the country, Lindsay Burdette and Hilary Barte, who helped Stanford to the team national championship this past week.
Bream, Blalock and Matzenauer were present for the Cardinal’s 4-3 win over Florida at the site of the NCAA Championships, the Dan Magill Tennis Complex in Athens, Ga.
Even though they weren’t playing, it was a confidence booster for the Mustangs.
“As we were watching the match, we realized that Suzie and Brittany in singles and doubles had wins over four players playing out there for the national championship,” Bream said. “I think that gives them the confidence that they belong, and that they can beat the best. That attitude can carry a long way in such a tough tournament.”
Blalock and Matzenauer have yet to face Borsanyi and Broosova, their first-round opponents from Baylor, as a team, but just days ago in the team tournament, Burdette and Barte took a 9-8 tiebreaker win over the Bears’ duo.
With Blalock and Matzenauer knowing they’ve already taken a victory from Burdette and Barte at Stanford, confidence is high. That victory may have even changed the course of the season for the Cal Poly duo.
“It made a huge difference because we were so close and we had never gotten to play a top team together,” Matzenauer said. “And playing a top team on their own court, I don’t think they’d lost there in four years.
“We just know that every team here is so talented and so tough and competitive. You’re not going to find a team that isn’t the best.”