Women of Troy head east for ITA National Indoors

During her career, recent USC graduate Maria Sanchez received national recognition for her play, including winning the 2010 singles championship of the USTA/ITA National Indoors Intercollegiate Championships.

Thursday, four Women of Troy will have an opportunity to make a little history of their own at the same tournament. The tournament, which runs through Sunday, features 32 of the nation’s best collegiate singles players and 20 doubles teams from universities across the country.

Junior Danielle Lao, along with freshmen Zoe Scandalis and Sabrina Santamaria, will play in the singles bracket, while sophomore Kaitlyn Christian will team up with Santamaria for doubles action. The Women of Troy will try to fill the void left by Sanchez, who defeated California’s Jana Juricova for the 2010 singles title. Juricova enters this year’s tournament as the top-seeded player.

Lao is competing in the NIIC for the second consecutive season after qualifying for an at-large bid. She is eager to improve on her 2010 first-round exit.

“I feel like I’m a much more complete player in general,” Lao said. “And above all, I’m mentally stronger.”

Lao said she enjoys traveling to New York for the competition and the opportunity to gain a deeper appreciation for the professionals who take to these same courts every year.

“Going over there [the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center] and looking at the lockers of the professional players really gives me chills,” Lao said. “It’s a trip I really look forward to. I work toward this tournament.”

USC coach Richard Gallien echoed Lao’s sentiments and reiterated the importance of the NIIC.

“This and Riviera are the two biggest [tournaments],” Gallien said, referring to the Riviera All-Americans in early October. “This one is special for a different reason. It’s neat that it’s in New York at the site of the U.S. Open. And the fact that we have three players in the [singles] draw and the draw is only 32 players is very good for our team.”

Meanwhile, Santamaria is coming off a victory at the ITA Southwest Regional Championships, a win that guaranteed her a spot in the NIIC.

“I still can’t believe it. It feels so surreal,” Santamaria said. “I’m super happy that I could win it for [USC] and my teammates.”

Santamaria admits she is less familiar with indoor courts and the challenges that come with playing on a different surface, but is eager to give it her best shot.

“I feel pretty good right now, coming off those wins,” Santamaria said. “I feel pretty confident. I’ve never played in Indoors actually, so this will be my first time competing [there]. We’ll see how it goes, I’m hoping for the best.”

In the first round of the singles bracket, Scandalis will face off against Notre Dame senior Kristy Frilling, Santamaria will take on SMU senior Marta Lesniak and Lao will play Columbia sophomore Bianca Sanon. In the doubles bracket, USC’s duo of Christian and Santamaria drew the Tyler JUCO tandem of Kerrie Cartwright and Audrey Leitz.

“Everyone’s tough,” Lao said. “This is usually the top 32 girls in the nation. Maybe not in the preseason rankings, but the top 32 girls that are playing their best tennis right now. Anyone can win this tournament.”