Women’s tennis will compete in Australia

Junior Constance Branstine scrimmages a teammate at practice. (Emily Smith/Daily Trojan)

Although its season has not yet started, the USC women’s tennis team is already making history. The Trojans left for Australia last Saturday and will join the men’s team in competing in the first-ever NCAA dual tennis match outside of the United States.

The Intercollegiate Tennis Association and Tennis Australia helped organize the event, which will run in conjunction with the Australian Open to promote college tennis abroad.

With matches taking place at Melbourne Park, the same venue as the Australian Open, the players have the chance to experience the grand slam first hand and watch professional players up close while traveling throughout Australia.

The team will also be at the opening Grand Slam of 2019. The event has drawn lots of praise and enthusiasm from Tennis Australia coach and commentator Darren Cahill.

The Women of Troy will first play an exhibition on Jan. 20 against players from the Tennis Australia National Academy. The real competition will begin the next day as they open up their NCAA regular season campaign against the University of South Carolina Gamecocks. This match will count toward the team’s Oracle ITA Collegiate Tennis rankings.

USC will look to three players who are ranked in the ITA top 100 as the leaders going into the season — freshman Danielle Willson at No. 99, sophomore Ana Neffa at No. 87 and freshman Salma Ewing at No. 20.

The Trojans will look to get off on a strong start after a promising preseason. Ewing has already impressed in her short time at USC. Aside from being the only freshman invited to the ITA Blizzard invitational in December, Ewing also won the ITA Southwest Regionals Championship. USC will also rely on more experienced players: juniors Becca Weissmann, Angela Kulikov and Constance Branstine, as well as senior Rianna Valdes.

The Women of Troy hope to improve on last year’s middling 13-10 record and 5-5 conference record, which led to the team finishing the season ranked 49th in the country. They will be tasked with replacing graduates Madison Westby and Gabby Smith, both of whom were starters on last year’s team.

Head coach Alison Swain was unable to recruit many players  last season after being hired late in the recruiting process. Now that she’s been with USC for a full recruiting cycle, Swain put together a very strong recruiting class that brought in Ewing, five-star recruit Willson and highly touted Estella Jaeger from Germany. According to Tennis Recruiting, these players make up the No. 4 class in the country.

The season already looks promising for the Trojans, and after a full off-season under Swain’s mentorship, the team should be much better prepared for NCAA competition. After making history in Australia, the Women of Troy have their first home match on Jan. 31 — a double header against Loyola Marymount at 2 p.m. followed by University of San Diego at 5 p.m.