Women of Troy kick off ITA Regionals

The Intercollegiate Tennis Association’s Southwest Regional Championships kicked off on Thursday in San Diego, Calif. in what is shaping up to be an action-packed event featuring 81 participants in the women’s singles bracket and 39 teams in the women’s doubles bracket. Six Women of Troy are competing in the tournament, which runs through Oct. 23.

Junior Danielle Lao is the defending singles champion and entered the tournament as the top overall seed. She remains undaunted, however, by the prospect of attempting to repeat as singles champion.

“The only pressure here is to really just go out and compete well,” Lao said.

Lao isn’t the only ranked player from USC in the singles bracket. Sophomore Kaitlyn Christian is the No. 5 seed, freshman Zoe Scandalis is No. 10 seed and senior Alison Ramos is the No. 13 seed. Freshmen Gabrielle DeSimone and Sabrina Santamaria round out the participants for the Women of Troy. USC coach Richard Gallien offered some sound advice for each member of his team.

“You just want to keep getting better at competing,” Gallien said. “It’s always easy to say we want to get better in the running game or you want to get better in the passing game, but the object for us is to continue to become better and more consistent competitors.”

In the doubles bracket, Christian and Santamaria are ranked as No. 2 duo, Ramos and Scandalis are the No. 9 seed, and Lao is teamed up with DeSimone as the No. 12 seed. Ramos was part of the championship-winning tandem in last year’s event, but Valeria Pulido, her partner in 2010, is currently playing in the Pan-American games. Ramos, however, remains confident in her new partner’s abilities.

“I feel really comfortable with [Scandalis],” Ramos said. “Our games really compliment each other. Zoe is an awesome doubles player so we’ll see [what happens].”

As for her outlook on the singles bracket, Ramos is eager to improve on her finish in the 2010 Southwest Regionals.

“I feel like I’ve improved a lot mentally and physically,” Ramos said. “I’m in much better shape than I was last year. I’m more focused, and excited to play.”

All six members of the Women of Troy will be careful not to underestimate any of their opponents. To make a run at a title, however, Gallien knows who USC’s toughest challengers will likely be.

“It usually comes down to us and UCLA,” Gallien said. “Arizona State has an excellent team. Arizona is much improved. I think it’s going to be a nasty weekend with a lot of upsets.”

The three freshmen in the field — Scandalis, DeSimone and Santamaria — are looking to successfully navigate through their second tournament as members of the USC tennis team.

Coach Gallien has been impressed with the group of newcomers thus far, and understands the learning curve they face while growing accustomed to a new level of competition.

“[The freshmen] are used to winning from their junior tennis days,” Gallien said. “They look at this as the next step in their own success. They’re taking it in stride. For the first time, as a college freshmen, you’re playing in tournaments where you might play somebody who is four years older than you are.”

As for his expectations for the entire Women of Troy team at the Southwest Regional Championships, Gallien has a goal in mind.

“If we’re able to get someone into the finals in singles or doubles, that would be a very good finish,” Gallien said.