The USC women’s tennis team is hoping to rebound from a precarious ending to its regular season as they travel to Ojai, Calif. for the Pac-10 championships, which begin Thursday.
USC coach Richard Gallien’s group struggled in Pac-10 play, finishing with a .500 record against conference foes. While USC (14-7, 4-4) took care of business against the lower half of the Pac-10, Oregon, Washington State), they had struggled against the more talented and deeper teams like Stanford and California.
Senior Maria Sanchez finished off the year with a strong outing against UCLA’s McCall Jones. And with her sights set on the looming NCAA tournament, Sanchez, the nation’s on-again, off-again No. 1 player, looks to be in good form heading into the Pac-10 championships. USC will need her at full strength if they hope to transform a up-and-down season into success at the Pac-10s this weekend.
Before moving onto NCAA championships coming in mid-May, Sanchez will face a few of her bitter rivals in the Pac-10 tourney this weekend in California’s Jana Juricova and Arizona State’s Kelcy McKenna. Juricova and McKenna account for two of Sanchez’s three singles losses this season.
But while Sanchez is at the top of her game, injuries could prove to be problematic.
“We are doing great as we try to get healthy,” Gallien said about his team’s progress. “Valeria [Pulido] is out and Danielle [Lao} is only good to play doubles, but Maria looks so strong and she and Kaitlyn [Christian} are a real threat to win the doubles [portion of the Pac-10 Championships].”
With sophomores Valeria Pulido and Danielle Lao sidelined, the challenge will be steep for the Women of Troy, as the the doubles’ duo of Sanchez and Christian has been strong throughout the year. Ranked No. 80 to begin the year, the Christian/Sanchez tandem has risen all the way to No. 5, finishing the regular season on a six-game winning streak and a 24-2 record.
For the freshman Christian the Pac-10 championships will be a good test to get acclimated to the intensity of the postseason, especially before she encounters the limelight of the NCAA tournament. With Lao out, Christian will have to take a bigger role than usual in taking hold of second singles, and if this season is any indication, the freshman is more than capable of handling the challenge.