If there’s been a team to beat this year for the USC women’s tennis team, it’s the Pepperdine Waves. Over the weekend, USC faced the No. 4 Waves for the third time this season and was handed its worst loss yet, a 4-1 defeat.
Heading into the match, the Trojans were short one of their key players: redshirt senior Angela Kulikov. Kulikov and her partner sophomore Eryn Cayetano had not lost to Pepperdine in the two previous matchups this season, including a 6-2 doubles win in January against the Waves. The pair is ranked No. 12 in the nation, but with Kulikov’s absence from both singles and doubles, Cayetano played with freshman Naomi Cheong, with the pair suffering a 6-2 loss.
While other notable changes were made to the lineup this week, the Trojans were able to maintain some sense of consistency. Cheong did not face Pepperdine’s graduate student Ashley Lahey this week, an opponent she was able to defeat during the last USC’s previous matchup with the Waves. Cheong was matched up against graduate student Jessica Failla instead. Redshirt senior Claire McKee faced sophomore Lisa Zaar this week, the third head-to-head between the two since January.
Along with the pairing of Cayetano and Cheong, on doubles were junior Salma Ewing and McKee and redshirt senior Summer Dvorak and junior Danielle Wilson. The Trojans fell short of securing the doubles point, with Dvorak and Wilson falling first in a 6-4 loss while Ewing and McKee did not finish after the Waves had secured the two matches needed for the decisive one-point advantage.
“We started off pretty well across all three courts, and Pepperdine made some quick adjustments and played a little more offensively,” head coach Alison Swain said. “Doubles is really about who can get on offense early, and [Pepperdine] did that better at the ends of the matches then we did.”
Reeling from their third doubles loss in a row to Pepperdine this season, the Trojans headed into singles with much ground to recover –– and they did it by capturing four of the six first sets played in their singles matches. However, only one singles match resulted in a win for the Trojans.
Ewing was able to clinch the sole point in the 4-1 loss, a straight set 6-2 7-5 singles victory over graduate student Shiori Fukuda, who’s ranked No. 12 in the nation. Ewing had previously faced Fukuda in the first matchup between the Trojans and Waves back in January, suffering a straight sets loss then –– a complete turnaround from the conviction in her play in the most recent meeting between the two.
Ewing attributed her win to the energy she brought to the court and the complete focus on her game plan that allowed her to win. Additionally, Ewing landed her serve well, placing it both out wide and down the middle, a key component when facing someone like Fukuda who hits a strong backhand.
“[Fukuda] likes to stand closer to the doubles line so she could get a backhand because I think she favors her backhand,” Ewing said. “At times it was hard for me to serve out wide to her forehand, but I was still able to do that well. At times I would just go ‘T’ because it was so wide open and that’s where I got a lot of my aces this match.”
While Ewing was the only member of Swain’s group to emerge with a win on Sunday, three other Trojans forced third sets on the Waves in lengthy singles matches. This included McKee who forced a third set against Zarr after taking only one of the first two sets.
“I’m really proud of [Claire],” Swain said. “She came out with a very specific game plan. She executed that very well in her first set. Her opponents stepped up the second set and, again, it’s about us investing back and playing to our strengths and playing with confidence when our opponents are playing their best and I think that’s where we can continue to improve.”
While mid-game improvements proved crucial in Pepperdine’s win over the Trojans, the Trojans will look forward to matchups with two Pac-12 opponents next weekend. USC will face both Colorado and Utah this weekend in Los Angeles at Marks Stadium.