It would be a stretch to call last season’s performance by the USC women’s tennis team a disappointment. The Women of Troy finished the season ranked No. 19 in the final Intercollegiate Tennis Association rankings and had several players perform well enough to advance deep into the postseason.
But given the recent history of success the team has experienced under USC coach Richard Gallien, it’s no surprise that this year’s squad is looking for more.
“To stay in the top 20 in the country was certainly not our goal, but considering how few people we had ready [last season], I think we did quite well,” said Gallien, now in his 17th season with the Women of Troy.
Prior to the 2009-2010 season, USC had finished ranked no worse than No. 11 in the nation this century. The 2009-2010 season’s final rankings saw the team at No. 20, followed by last season’s finish at No. 19.
Last year’s squad was hampered by mid-season injuries to key players, and the lack of depth affected the team’s performance. This year the Women of Troy face another huge obstacle before the season has even started in replacing senior Maria Sanchez, who graduated last spring after finishing the season No. 3 in the nation.
But the Women of Troy have plenty of returners to make up for Sanchez’s departure, including junior Danielle Lao, who finished last season ranked No. 23 in the ITA rankings and was named second team All-Pac 10.
Lao believes the team is in a good position to move forward without Sanchez.
“You can’t replace a player like Maria Sanchez,” Lao said. “But we’ve got a lot of strong freshmen coming in who are eager and hungry, so we’re looking forward to a good season.”
That group of freshmen, ranked as the second best recruiting class in the country according to TennisRecruiting.com, consists of Gabrielle, DeSimone, Giuliana Olmos, Sabrina Santamaria and Zoe Scandalis.
Gallien expressed his excitement about this group of new players.
“Although we lost Maria [Sanchez], we also gain one of the top recruiting classes in the country and I expect all four [freshmen] to play and contribute,” Gallien said.
Though this new batch of freshmen will be relied on this season, a former highly touted recruit is also expected to be a top contributor: sophomore Kaitlyn Christian.
In her first season playing Division I tennis, Christian teamed with the aforementioned Sanchez to form one of the top doubles teams in the country. The pair advanced to the semifinals of the NCAA doubles championships, the farthest any USC women’s doubles team has ever been. This year, however, Christian is looking to top that mark.
“The big goal would be to win the Pac-12 and NCAA championship,” Christian said. “But right now we’re just focused on working hard.”
Christian credits Sanchez as a key contributor to her own personal success. She looks to experience some of that same success the two experienced last year with a new partner this season.
“Maria taught me a lot,” Christian said. “She’s probably one of the best players I’ve ever played with, so hopefully I can carry some of that success into this year.”
Christian is listed at No. 60 in the preseason ITA rankings of individual players after finishing last season at No. 90. Lao currently sits at No. 16.
Teamed with other returners, such as Valeria Pulido and Allison Ramos, Gallien is looking to return to past success.
“With the players we have coming in and the returners, I really do think we should be back in the top 10 and make a solid run at a championship.”
The Women of Troy open the season this weekend at the Nike Invitational at California.