Beginning the season ranked No. 4 in the country, the USC women’s tennis team will look to build off the success of last year’s Final Four run and make a push for an elusive NCAA championship.
For the second straight season, USC will open up their season against UC Irvine, who it defeated handily in last year’s opener.
Despite being led by senior and All-Big West first-teamer Kristina Smith, the Anteaters will be hard-pressed to avoid their second straight defeat at the start of the year to the Women of Troy.
The USC women’s tennis team comes into this year with their core still intact after losing only senior Alison Ramos to graduation. Though Ramos’ departure will surely be felt in the locker room, as her senior leadership was a driving force last season, USC still trots out a trio of top-20 ranked players in sophomores Sabrina Santamaria and Zoë Scandalis (ranked No. 17 and No. 19, respectively) as well as de facto leader and senior Danielle Lao, who sits at 14th nationally.
“This year we’ve got a great group of girls. High talent and high character all around,” USC coach Richard Gallien said.
On top of their strong singles play, the true strength for the Women of Troy lies in their doubles squads, where they boast the nation’s top team in Santamaria and junior Kaitlyn Christian. Along with that duo, Gallien’s squad also has the combination of Scandalis and Gabrielle DeSimone, who rank at No. 13 in the doubles rankings. Lao, meanwhile, is paired with fellow senior Valeria Pulido to make up the No. 40 team in the country.
Looking to supplement last season’s 24-4 record will be incoming freshman Ellie Yates and sophomore Giuliana Olmos, who hope to add to the firepower for the Women of Troy.
Yates, who was signed last November, was a top-notch athlete in high school, setting school records in swimming and track,while proving her acumen in tennis as a top-10 player. Though playing time might be hard to come by on a deep USC team, she could see her court time increase, as Gallien has never been shy to play a younger option if the talent is evident.
One player who could fight for time early on is Olmos, who sat out last season because of an NCAA technicality. She’s poised to make her mark for the Women of Troy, and Gallien said that “no one at USC is hungrier to compete than Giuliana Olmos.”
After their match against UC Irvine, the Women of Troy will split up and head to Las Vegas and Palm Springs for the Freeman Memorial in Nevada and the National Collegiate Tennis Classic at home in California.
Getting off to a fast start was a boon for last season’s squad and the players on this year’s roster are hoping for some similar success.
“We’re going to win some big matches and we’re going to lose some matches. But we just want our girls and everyone within this program to have fun,” Gallien said.