True freshman Sasha Ozerets took the Big West by storm this year, putting together a 15-6 singles record en route to taking home Big West Freshman of the Year honors.
“As a freshman, you don’t know what to expect, especially at a DI school like Cal Poly, so I put my head down and just worked,” Ozerets said.
Sasha’s storybook season is a testament to much more than just her booming serves and electric ground strokes, as the desire to prove herself may have been what pushed her to be great.
Ozerets was recruited by previous coach Kat Winterhalter, and when Winterhalter accepted a new job at St. Mary’s after last season, she needed to prove herself to first-year head coach Ellie Williams.
“I had heard so many great things about Coach Ellie, people would pat me on the back and say how she was such an amazing coach,” Ozerets said. “Honestly I was intimidated at first because I wanted to show her I was worthy of being recruited and I could be a valuable asset to her team.”
Ozerets’ mentality and heart on the court stuck out to Williams right away.
“She’s extremely feisty on the court, she hates to lose and she truly loves the game of tennis and competing,” Williams said. “Her sheer desire for doing whatever it takes to win is definitely one of her highlights as a person.”
Being named the Big West Freshman of the Year was not a part of Ozerets’ agenda, as the only thing on her mind was working and helping the team to get better.
One member of her team this season was redshirt junior Melissa LaMette, who stepped into a mentorship role with Ozerets as the two paired up for doubles this year.
“I call her baby Sash,” LaMette said. “She’s come to me with so many questions regarding her tennis and I offer my advice in any way I can. Off the court, our relationship is great. We’ve gone to the beach, got dinner and hung out.”
Ozerets’ bought into the team culture early, at her official Cal Poly visit in fact, and committed to the school shortly after.
“I love them, a big reason why I chose Cal Poly was because of the team,” Ozerets said. “We’re all like one big family, it’s super cute. When we were in Georgia, it felt like I was traveling with my family. It was amazing.”
The Mustangs finished the season as the Big West runner-ups after going 14-11, including a near-perfect end of the season where they won 13 of their last 16 matches.
Ozerets and Cal Poly were also a part of program history, reaching the postseason for the first time by playing in the Universal Tennis NIT Championships in Peachtree City, Georgia.
But the team’s success didn’t come right away.
The Mustangs began the season with a 1-5 start and needed a wake-up call after losing at home to Cal State Northridge and the University of San Francisco in late February.
“I think we started off scared. When we lost to CSUN, we were all sad, crying in the gym because we didn’t know what to do, we had never lost to them,” Ozerets said. “Coach Williams gave us a pep-talk after the losses and from then on we started to play amazing.”
Cal Poly came together and started to work as a unit, riding a five-match winning streak that included a statement 4-3 victory at home over No. 64-ranked Harvard.
“Beating Harvard was the coolest moment in the world. My best friend Peyton [Dunkle] clinched the match for us and we all went nuts,” Ozerets said. “We worked our butts off for this and it was just an unreal moment.”
Ozerets had a clutch win at line No. 5 during that match, beating Sany Gawande 7-5, 7-5 and keeping the Mustangs’ hopes alive.
“That Harvard match was really big for her,” Williams said. “Beating a player of that level is a huge accomplishment for her individually.”
That victory set the tone for the rest of the season, proving to the team and Ozerets that they could hang with anybody.
After the season ended, the Big West announced the Freshman of the Year award, and to those in Sasha’s corner, it was no surprise.
“It came as no surprise, she was a beast the entire year,” LaMette said. “She totally deserved it and we were all super happy for her.”
It was a special moment for the whole Ozerets family.
“It was unexpected at first,” Ozerets said. “My mom texted me and said ‘Congratulations, that’s huge’ and I didn’t know what she was talking about at first. It was a cool moment and definitely a special feeling.”
It’s clear that the potential is high for Ozerets coming off her first year with the Mustangs, and this upcoming summer is all about getting better.
“[Sasha] and I are both excited to get after it this summer,” Williams said. “We are going to develop her doubles game even more and continue to build up her doubles IQ, transition game and comfortability at the net.”
Ozerets has big plans for herself and is taking the offseason to train and play tournaments against some of the best players in the nation.
“When you achieve something like this, there’s a lot more that I can do, and I want to see how far and how good I can get,” Ozerets said. “That’s my motivation for this summer.”