Senior Maria Sanchez had seen Aeriel Ellis before.
As a matter of fact, they’ve sparred against each other numerous times over the last ten years.
This time, however, Sanchez would walk away with not one, but two victories against her rival.
Her play would help lead the Women of Troy to a 6-1 victory over No. 20 Texas.
“There are always subplots to these things,” said USC coach Richard Gallien. “They both know each other, [they’re] both from Northern California, and these things go back a long way. I’m not saying they have a grudge against each other, but it is a hairier sort of deal.”
Paired up with freshman Kaitlin Christian, Sanchez staved off a late rally from Ellis and her partner Krista Damico to steal the doubles match early on in the Sunday afternoon showdown with the Longhorns.
The Ellis/D’Amico tandem roared back after falling into a 5-0 hole in the match’s only set, only to be beaten 8-6 when Sanchez and Christian finally reclaimed the momentum late in the game.
In her singles game, the USC captain overpowered the diminutive Ellis with her strong serve and mighty forehand, winning the only two sets of the match.
Despite her impressive display, victory didn’t come at an easy cost for the nation’s No. 3-ranked player, as Ellis continued to battle back throughout the match, taking Sanchez to the brink in the second set before bowing out in a 6-3, 7-5 defeat.
Sophomore Danielle Lao stepped up Sunday afternoon, matching Sanchez’s two wins on the day, and dispatching what could be Texas’ most talented player in Krista Damico.
Unlike the Longhorn’s volatile junior, Lao played under control and with great pace all afternoon, keeping Damico off balance with low balls to counter her powerful strikes and pressuring her into a plethora of unforced errors.
After teaming with senior Lyndsay Kinstler in a dominant 8-2 win over Texas’ No. 3 doubles squad of Juliana Gajic and Caroline Larsson, Lao was able to beat back a Damico rally to take the first set, then needed a furious rally to secure the second set, winning the last four games of the match to close out a 6-3, 6-4 win.
“She is a really tough player,” Lao said. “I was down 4-3 and needed to step up and execute, especially on her serve, I really focused and concentrated the last three games and got the win.”
Another tough day for junior Allison Ramos once again tested her resiliency and toughness as she had to play a physically imposing opponent for the second game in a row.
Similar to her defeat against Loreto Alonso of USF, Ramos had difficulty returning the monstrous serve of senior Maggie Mello and that proved to be the difference in a hotly-contested match that ended in an intense, pressure-filled tiebreaker.
Facing adversity for one of the few times this year, senior Cristala Andrews battled back against the Longhorns’ Cierra Gaytan-Leach to steal a victory, 4-6, 6-3, 6-3.
In another three-set duel, Christian secured her second win of the day beating Gajic 6-3, 2-6, 6-1 in the fourth singles game, while sophomore Valeria Pulido recovered from her doubles defeat earlier to dominate Texas freshman Elizabeth Begley 6-0, 6-1.
On the day, the Women of Troy would win seven of nine matches.
With an extremely talented UCLA team ahead, this tune-up against Texas helps build momentum and give the team a winning air heading into the meat of their schedule.
“We are all feeling very confident and feel we’re in a very good place right now,” Lao said. “It’s all about balance especially in tennis and right now we are really hungry and working hard to compete. We just want it so bad and it’s showing in the results.”