The women’s tennis team is already in midseason shape. Even though the team does not start conference play until the spring, the Women of Troy have played in two Intercollegiate Tennis Association tournaments and the Battle in the Bay tournament in San Francisco.
The Trojans are now preparing for the Women of Troy Fall Invitational, which will take place Friday through Sunday at Marks Stadium. This will be their first time hosting, and the team will play Oregon, Cal State Fullerton and Loyola Marymount University.
“It’s been a while since we played a home match, so it will be fun,” senior Rianna Valdes said.
This tournament will be the first chance for new players to showcase their talent. The team has already proven its dominance, however, winning both singles and doubles championships from the Battle in the Bay tournament. Freshman Danielle Willson won the singles championship, beating her own teammate, sophomore Ana Neffa, in the championship match 3-6, 6-4, 6-4. The former All-American will face some fierce competition this weekend.
Aside from the Battle of the Bay tournament, freshman Salma Ewing had a solid performance at the ITA Oracle Masters event in Malibu. Ranked No. 5 freshman in the nation, Ewing reached the quarterfinal in this loaded tournament field, but lost to Michigan’s Kate Fahey 6-7(1), 6-2, 7-6(3). The 18-year-old was the No. 1 recruit out of high school.
“I’m looking to improve my serve and my overall movement on court, Ewing said. “Definitely moving forward, I want to incorporate that to my game.”
The team has only one returning senior in Valdes, who looks to add onto her tremendous career. Currently ranked No. 74 in the nation, Valdes went 14-7 in singles and 12-10 in doubles.
This weekend, Valdes will play with junior Angela Kulikov after their spectacular performance during the ITA All-American Championships in Pacific Palisades last week. Valdes and Kulikov made it to the quarterfinals, before losing to a 14th-ranked doubles team from Wichita State, featuring junior Fatima Bizhukova and junior Marta Bellucco, by a score of 8-4. Despite the loss, Valdes and Kulikov opened eyes as they beat five nationally ranked teams en route to the quarterfinal.
“I think we found a lot of things that worked for us, different plays, so just take it back to practice, work on it and get better,” Valdes said.
Kulikov looks to have a great tournament, as well as another fantastic season. The junior from of Sun Valley, Calif. looks to build on a spectacular sophomore campaign, where she played number one doubles with Valdes the majority of the season. Head coach Alison Swain may also look to Kulikov to fill the vacant singles spot left by Gabby Smith this season.
Neffa and junior Constance Branstine are also eyeing another doubles championship this weekend. The pair displayed just how dangerous they can be when they won the doubles championship at the Battle of the Bay tournament. Neffa, a sophomore transfer from St. Thomas University, looks to restart her career after not playing during her freshman season. While Branstine begins her second season in a Trojan uniform; the former five-star blue chip recruit had a strong sophomore season, finishing 12-12 in singles and 11-11 in doubles.
This season’s team certainly gives Swain high hopes in her second season as the team’s head coach. After finishing eighth in the Pac-12 last year, the Women of Troy have a chip on their shoulder.