After a long, successful offseason, USC’s men’s and women’s tennis teams will play their first tournaments of the fall season this weekend. The teams finished last season ranked No. 5 on the men’s side and No. 6 on the women’s and look to improve upon their accomplishments as they embark upon their 2013-14 campaigns.
The men’s team will begin their season by heading to Tulsa, Okla. for the Intercollegiate Tennis Association All-American Championships. This year, three Trojans automatically qualified for the singles draw: senior Ray Sarmiento and juniors Roberto Quiroz and Yannick Hanfmann.
Sarmiento enters the season ranked No. 8 in the nation, a career high for him.
Last year in the ITA All-American Tournament, Sarmiento advanced to the quarterfinals, but a calf injury in the third set forced him to retire. Hanfmann fell in the first round, while Quiroz, who fought his way through the qualifying rounds to make the main draw, was defeated in the Round of 16.
“During the offseason I played a lot of tournaments so I feel sharp and ready to go even if it’s our first tournament of the year,” Sarmiento said. “[I’m] looking forward to competing and seeing my teammates playing well too. We have our whole team pretty much playing All-Americans … so that’s great to see and it shows how deep we are as a team”
Three more Trojans earned spots in the qualifying rounds of this year’s tournament: senior Michael Grant and juniors Jonny Wang and Eric Johnson.
Though the qualifying rounds might be daunting, Wang promises to keep his head down and work to make it into the main draw like Quiroz did last year.
“[A qualifying match is] just like another match. No added pressure,” Wang said. “I’m just focused on doing my best and enjoying the experience because it’s my first time in Tulsa.”
This season, the Trojans welcome two newcomers in Robbie Bellamy and Nick Crystal. Though the freshmen won’t be competing in the season-opening tournament, they are bound to make an impact soon, as they have six teammates ranked in the ITA Top 100 to learn from.
Some of the USC’s women’s team will head to Berkeley, Calif. to compete in the Cal Nike Women’s Invitational, while others will remain Los Angeles to play in the Riviera/ITA Women’s All-American Championships in Pacific Palisades this weekend.
Junior Sabrina Santamaria enters the fall season ranked No. 1 by the ITA. Last year, she was knocked out in the Round of 16 at the Riviera/ITA Women’s All-American Championships, but bounced back and played a nearly undefeated spring season. She enters this year’s tournament as the top seed.
Santamaria also represented the United States at the World University Games in Kazan, Russia, this summer, making it to the gold medal match, in which she fell to a player from Japan.
“I’ve had some really great competition over the summer,” Santamaria said. “It’s my third season so I have gained a lot of experience and momentum from a really great season last year”
Santamaria’s impressive singles play is matched, if not exceeded, by her success with doubles partner junior Kaitlyn Christian, with whom she won the 2012 NCAA Women’s Doubles Championship. Christian and Santamaria, who sit atop the preseason doubles rankings, look to repeat as champions of the Riviera/ITA Women’s All-American Championships this year.
While Santamaria and Christian look to continue their dominance, Brynn Boren is simply aiming to make a name for herself at USC. The senior transferred from Tennessee at the end of last season and will make her debut for the Women of Troy this year. Based on her No. 19 preseason singles ranking, it’s safe to assume Boren will immediately contribute to the team’s success.
The men’s and women’s teams are stacked with talent and appear poised to continue their perennial success this upcoming season, and this weekend will set the tone for the year.
Follow Aubrey on Twitter @aubreykragen