Women’s tennis to open season at Cal Nike Invitational

If you have yet to see members of the USC’s women’s tennis team in action, you won’t have to wait long to get the chance. The team’s fall season kicks off Friday at the Cal Nike Invitational, a weekend-long tourney hosted by the California Golden Bears.

The Women of Troy are currently ranked No. 20 in the nation. They ended the 2009 season with an overall record of 14-10 and a record of 5-3 in the Pac-10. Last season the team made it to the NCAA Championships for the 19th consecutive time, but was defeated by No. 12 Cal in the second round of play.

According to coach Richard Gallien injuries held back the team from its full potential, but the team is stronger this year.

“[Last year] we played on average with four healthy players, which is half of what you need … We are past that now. We got, in my opinion, the number one recruit in the country, Kaitlyn Christian, and we are healthy,” said Gallien.

Gallien is entering his 16th season with the team this year, having led the Women of Troy to the NCAA Championships every year he has coached them. In 2009 he was awarded Pac-10 Coach of the Year for the third time.

The 2010 season already looks promising for USC. The Intercollegiate Tennis Association (ITA) released preseason rankings on September 10, with five out of ten members of the squad among the top 100 players in the nation. In the singles category senior Maria Sanchez is ranked No. 3, junior Alison Ramos is No. 19 and sophomores Danielle Lao and Valeria Pulido are No. 28 and No. 74 respectively.

“Everyone’s been working really hard and our practices have been really intense and efficient. These are the best practices I’ve had at SC,” Maria Sanchez said.

While rankings are bound to change after the first tournament, these initial numbers indicate USC’s strength this year. The ITA ranked freshman Kaitlyn Christian No. 9 in the newcomer singles preseason rankings. As a doubles pair Sanchez and Christian are ranked No. 42.

“We have the best freshman in the country, and there are a lot of reasons to be optimistic,” Gallien said.

With a solid season under their belts from last year, the Women of Troy look toward improving their national ranking this year and using their numerous nationally-ranked players to make it to the NCAA Championships for the 20th time in as many years.

“Our goal always is to win a NCAA title and this year I think we have the team to do it. Hopefully we’ll go far in the tournament, if not win it,” Sanchez said.
Gallien is also confident that this season will be a successful one.

“In terms of character, this is the highest level of character in any particular team I’ve ever had. I have a lot of confidence in this group that they will really fight well,” Gallien said.

With only seniors Cristala Andrews and Lyndsay Kinstler representing USC at the Cal Invite, many of the other members of the team are getting ready to start playing in the pre-qualifying round of the 2010 Riviera/ITA Women’s All-American Championships next weekend.

Play in the Cal Invitational begins tomorrow at 8 a.m. with doubles matches at both the Hellman Tennis Complex and the Channing Tennis Courts in Berkeley.