Women of Troy strive to bounce back from first loss

After a weeklong break following a 2-1 showing at the ITA National Team Indoor championships in Charlottesville, Va., the USC women’s tennis team will return to action today with a home matchup against San Diego State at 1:30 p.m.

The Trojans are undefeated this year at Marks Stadium and will look to continue that home winning streak against the visiting Aztecs, who hold a respectable 3-2 record on the season but have yet to play away from home.

Following a weekend in which the Women of Troy played matches against three ranked teams, there is an understandable concern that the squad would look past an unranked San Diego State team, especially with a rematch against the No. 7-ranked Cal Golden Bears on the horizon.

USC head coach Richard Gallien, however, did not think that overlooking an opponent would be any cause for concern among his players.

“Certainly we talked about that and we’ll find out,” Gallien said. “More than anything, with a week and a half off, we’re tired of practicing with each other and ready to go compete against someone else.”

Following their first loss of the year in the quarterfinals of the ITA’s against No. 8 North Carolina, the Women of Troy dropped from No. 4 to No. 6 nationally. However, the USC was impressive enough two weekends ago that three members of the team rank in the top five nationally.

Senior Danielle Lao jumped from No. 14 to No. 3 overall (in addition to winning Pac-12 player of the week, the third Trojan to do so this year). Meanwhile, sophomore Sabrina Santamaria found herself ranked No. 1 in singles and doubles play. She and her doubles partner, junior Kaitlyn Christian, are undefeated on the year. Santamaria and Lao enter the matchup against the Aztecs with the highest singles rankings in either of their USC careers.

Santamaria’s accomplishments are especially impressive and, rather than attempting to keep the sophomore away from her press clippings, Gallien decided to let her enjoy the accomplishment a bit by showing off the rankings in his office. He insisted that he was not concerned about the possibility that the adulation would distract her.

“We decided to have fun with it. It’s pretty cool to say you were No. 1 in the nation in something,” Gallien said. “I would be more worried if Sabrina wasn’t such a grounded kid, but she is.”

USC will look at this matchup as a tough test before beginning Pac-12 conference play this weekend with a rematch against Cal. The Trojans won the first matchup against the Golden Bears in Charlottesville in dominating fashion, 4-1, but the Pac-12 conference is notorious for being a daunting exercise with top-notch competition every few days.

Gallien himself believes that four teams in the Pac-12, including USC, are among the top six in the nation when healthy. Defending their conference title will be tough, but the Women of Troy are certainly up to the challenge.

Following the match against Cal, the Women of Troy play twice more on the road — against San Diego on March 1 and UCLA on March 8.