The USC women’s tennis team started its season off with a bang, taking all six singles matches and winning doubles play in convincing fashion against UC Irvine at home on Wednesday.
Head coach Richard Gallien was very pleased with how the team played and was excited to start the season.
“I’m almost 52 and I’ve spent almost half of my life playing or coaching tennis,” Gallien said. “And yet it’s not old hat to me. It’s exciting. We get to tussle and fight again.”
During doubles play, USC’s combination of junior Kaitlyn Christian and sophomore Sabrina Santamaria fell behind early before eventually rallying to defeat the Anteaters’ top doubles team 8-5. The Women of Troy will rely heavily on the Christian/Santamaria duo, as the two come into the season as the top ranked doubles team in the nation.
Sophomores Gabriella DeSimone and Zoe Scandalis followed their lead and overcame an early deficit to notch an 8-4 win. Newcomers Giuliana Olmos and Ellie Yates rounded out doubles play, registering an 8-5 win in their first match together.
“I thought we were sluggish for some reason starting off in the doubles, but you’ve got to start somewhere,” Gallien said. “We did just fine. We have some tougher tests right around the corner quickly.”
The Women of Troy continued their stellar play during the singles portion of the match. Olmos and Yates were impressive in their USC debuts. Olmos tallied a 6-2, 6-0 win in her first singles match, while Yates triumphed with a score of 6-0, 6-1. Gallien was excited for both girls, but noted that Olmos’ victory was especially satisfying after she was forced to sit out last year due to an NCAA ruling.
“No one is hungrier to compete than Guiliana Olmos,” Galien said.
After the victories by Olmos and Yates set up the Women of Troy with a 3-0 lead, the stage was set for DeSimone to seal the victory. DeSimone, who enters the season ranked No. 56 in the nation, did just that with a 6-1, 6-2 defeat of her opponent.
Following DeSimone’s clinching victory, Christian handily won her match to give the Trojans a 5-0 advantage. That was followed by senior Valiera Pulido winning a tough match 6-3, 6-3 to move the Trojans closer to a perfect sweep.
Rounding out singles play was star senior Danielle Lao, who entered the match as the team’s highest ranked player at No. 14. Lao faced tough competition in UCI’s All Big-West performer Kristina Smith and struggled early on. After trailing Smith 0-3 in the second set, Lao utilized strong serves and sound execution to recover and wrap up the day for the Women of Troy with a 6-3, 6-4 victory.
“When you have two girls who are equally matched as Danielle and Smith were, you have to be able to outlast [the opponent],” Gallien said. “This group was definitely up to the challenge. You’ve got to be ready for a bar fight in these tough matches.”
Gallien added that the squad will split up for the Freeman Memorial Tournament in Las Vegas, Nev., and the National Collegiate Tennis Classic in Palm Springs, Calif. The Women of Troy will look to repeat their success from last year in both tournaments, as Scandalis won the Freeman Memorial while Lao was victorious at the National Collegiate Tennis Classic.
Also notable was the absence during singles play of standouts Santamaria and Scandalis. Gallien assured that the two would play singles this weekend and added he was simply giving some other girls a chance to compete and grow.
The Women of Troy (1-0) will next play at home against Akron on Jan. 26 as part of the ITA Kick-Off Weekend before heading to Malibu to play Pepperdine on Jan. 31.