USC’s women’s tennis team capped off a tumultuous season on May 15, ending its 2014 campaign with a 4-3 loss to Georgia in the NCAA Round of 16.
The No. 16 Women of Troy (18-8, 7-3 Pac-12) laid it all out on the line against the No. 1 Bulldogs (24-5, 11-2 SEC), taking them down to the wire in a five-hour match on their home court in Athens, Georgia.
“They’re a tough team, they’re on their home courts, they were well-coached, they were well-conditioned,” said USC head coach Richard Gallien of Georgia. “And yet as the 16th seed — much undeserved, but the 16th seed — our girls I thought were remarkable today.”
USC fought tooth and nail, but put itself in an early hole but dropping the doubles point. On the top court, USC’s senior Kaitlyn Christian and junior Giuliana Olmos, ranked No. 49 in the nation together, stood up against Georgia’s No. 2 Lauren Herring and Maho Kowase. The Women of Troy put up quite a fight, but fell 8-5 to the Bulldogs.
Caroline Brinson and Lilly Kimbell clinched the doubles point for the Bulldogs with an 8-6 win over USC’s duo of junior Gabriella DeSimone and freshman Zoë Katz, suspending play on court two where the score was locked at 7-7.
“We didn’t play our best in doubles,” Gallien said. “And the team came out and just was terrific in singles.”
Though Georgia’s No. 102 Kimbell topped #118 DeSimone, 6-1, 6-2, coming out of the break, the Women of Troy showed great resolve in fighting out of a 2-0 hole.
Senior Brynn Boren, who transferred to USC from Tennessee this season, utilized her three years of experience in the SEC to crush her opponent, No. 15 Silvia Garcia, by a 6-3, 6-0 score.
The Bulldogs fired back with a straight set win of their own, though, when No. 20 Kowase topped USC’s No. 60 Olmos, 6-4, 6-0. With the win, Kowase extended her win streak to 11 consecutive matches and snapped Olmos’ nine-match win streak.
With Georgia ahead 3-1, the Women of Troy surged to tie up the score.
USC’s No. 92 Katz topped Georgia’s Mia King, 6-3, 6-0, on court six before Christian pulled off a grueling 7-5, 7-5 victory over Georgia’s Kate Fuller on court five.
With the win, in which Christian fought back from a 5-1 deficit, Christian finished off her career at USC as a three-time Pac-12 doubles champion and an NCAA doubles champion with junior Sabrina Santamaria, whose 2014 season was cut short by an ACL injury.
Christian’s efforts shifted attention to the top court, where No. 19 Scandalis was battling it out with Georgia’s No. 6 Herring. Scandalis had managed to win the first set, 7-5, but Herring bounced back and took the second set 6-1.
The third set went to a tiebreak, where Scandalis coolly fought off a handful of match points. But Herring, who had won her last 11 singles matches, pulled off the clincher for the Bulldogs by a 5-7, 6-1, 7-6 (5) score.
“I believed I could win until the very last ball that went by me,” Scandalis said. “I’ve come back from match points and won other matches in my life and I know how hard it is to close out a match, especially on a stage like this, so I knew anything could happen as long as I just kept fighting and kept competing.”
Though Scandalis was visibly upset in her post-match press conference, her head coach sang her praises and insisted he was proud of his team’s season.
“The level of pride I have in [Scandalis] and the rest of the girls is immeasurable,” Gallien said. “I think you have to be able to see the big picture and have to be able to not actually focus on tonight and this particular match but the whole year and how hard they practiced.”
Though USC’s season ended in the Round of 16, the Women of Troy had no time to wallow in defeat, as four players had been selected to compete in the individual NCAA tournament.
Both Scandalis and Olmos represented USC in the singles and doubles draw, while Boren and Katz also showed their stuff in doubles competition.
In the first round on May 21, Olmos topped South Florida’s No. 71 Loreta Alonso, 6-4, and Scandalis beat Duke’s No. 36 Hanna Mar, 6-4, 6-2.
In the Round of 32 on May 22, both Women of Troy faced higher-ranked opponents. Olmos matched up against Saint Mary’s’ Jenny Jullien, who is ranked No. 11 in the nation. Jullien was a familiar foe for Olmos, as USC faced off against Saint Mary’s twice this season, coming away with two victories.
Olmos didn’t play against Jullien in either of those matches, but surely got advice from her teammates who did. Olmos hung tough with the Perpignan, France native, but eventually fell 6-4, 7-6 (4) to end her junior season.
Scandalis went up against the No. 1 player in the country in North Carolina’s Jamie Loeb, and fell 6-3, 6-2. The San Diego native finished up her junior season with a 25-11 overall record after heroically stepping into the top singles slot following Santamaria’s injury.
Olmos and Scandalis continued to fight on in doubles play that day, going up against Alabama’s No. 4 Maya Jansen and Erin Routliffe. Despite only being ranked seven spots below the Crimson Tide duo, Olmos and Scandalis fell 6-3, 6-2. Olmos and Scandalis finished the season as USC’s most successful doubles pair, going 22-8 overall. Jansen and Routliffe went on to win the NCAA doubles championship on May 26.
Boren and Katz had better luck against their higher-ranked opponents in the first round. USC’s 16th-ranked pair bested Virginia’s No. 7 Julia Elbaba and Rachel Pierson by a 6-3, 7-6 (8) score.
The senior-freshman tandem advanced to face Auburn’s Pleun Burgmans and Emily Flickinger in the Round of 16. The Women of Troy fell, 7-5, 7-5, to finish their season 20-7 overall.
Though the Women of Troy were unable to repeat as NCAA doubles champions (a feat Santamaria and Christian accomplished last season), Gallien remained proud of his team.
“If we had gone out and competed poorly and were sort of satisfied with just getting here, then I would be sitting here rather disappointed,” Gallien said. “But I’m not at all.”