The USC women’s tennis team’s quest for an ITA National Indoor championship was thwarted Saturday when No. 8 North Carolina edged out the Women of Troy by a score of 4-3 in the quarterfinals.
North Carolina (8-0) exacted revenge against a USC squad that upset the Tar Heels last year in the quarterfinal round of this tournament.
Before advancing to the quarterfinals, however, USC was able to notch a victory over Virginia in the Round of 16.
In that match, USC dropped its first doubles point of the season against the Cavaliers, despite the tandem of junior Kaitlyn Christian and sophomore Sabrina Santamaria taking home an 8-0 win against Virginia’s No. 10 pair of Stephanie Nauta and Li Xi.
Even though they lost the doubles point, the Women of Troy rallied behind the strong play at the top of the singles round to steal a win against Virginia. After senior Danielle Lao and Santamaria won their matches on courts one and two, respectively, sophomore Giuliana Olmos would put USC one win away from securing a 4-3 victory.
Fighting back after a 6-1 loss in the first set, sophomore Gabriella DeSimone won the last two sets 7-5, 7-6, as she finished off Maci Epstein in a final set tiebreaker to seal the deal.
“We knew it was going to be a very difficult match because they are very good, and they are on their home courts, so it was an excellent win for us,” USC head coach Richard Gallien said. “Virginia is really good and they are very talented, so I’m really proud of our girls to step up to the challenge today. It’s so early in the year and we haven’t been tested much yet, so to win a match like this is extra special.”
In the quarterfinals against North Carolina, USC started out taking the doubles point behind two dominating performances on courts one and three. The nation’s top-ranked pair of Christian and Santamaria was able to defeat the No. 7-ranked UNC duo of Ashley Dai and Whitney Kay 8-3 for their 17th-straight victory.
Court three saw Lao pair with Olmos to take down Tessa Lyons and Lauren McHale by an 8-3 margin to wrap up the doubles point.
Despite a 1-0 lead, the singles portion of the match proved to be a daunting task for the Women of Troy.
Santamaria took care of business on court one with a 6-3, 6-2 win against No. 11 Gina Suarez-Malguti; meanwhile, Lao defeated No. 28 Zoe De Bruycker by the same margin in the second slot.
These two victories would be the only two singles wins that USC would muster, as the team wound up dropping their next four matches.
Olmos faced a tough task trying to take down No. 36 Caroline Price on court five and she wasn’t able to pull through, losing 6-2, 6-2.
Needing to win one more singles match, the onus was on DeSimone and Christian to deliver. Unfortunately for USC, DeSimone failed to break through in the fourth slot and Christian also fell short on court five.
Finally, Kay defeated freshman Zoë Scandalis in three sets (6-2, 5-7, 6-3) to clinch the North Carolina victory and send the Women of Troy packing.
“With UNC winning it and UCLA playing them [in the finals], we know where the bar is set,” assistant coach West Nutt said. “It gives us belief that we’re on track.”
Following the devastating loss, USC played No. 7 Cal in a consolation match on Sunday. Sticking with the theme of the weekend, the Women of Troy were led by Santamaria and Lao in singles matches and wound up defeating the Golden Bears 4-1. Both Lao and Santamaria, who rank No. 14 and 17 in the country, respectively, took down opponents who were ranked higher in the polls.
Lao won a tight first set before she would put away No. 7 Zsofi Susanyi, and Santamaria handily defeated No. 8 Anett Schutting in their match by a 6-4, 6-3 margin.
In doubles play, Santamaria and Christian ran their unbeaten streak to 18 games with an 8-6 win over Cal’s Tayler Davis and Susanyi as USC shook off its first loss of the season with a complete game against a rival opponent.
“The game was really tough for both us and Cal,” Nutt said. “But it was good to get out there and get a victory against arguably a top-five team.”
After playing three matches in as many days, USC will have an extended break before returning to action on Feb. 20 to take on San Diego State at Marks Stadium at 1:30 p.m.