Women’s tennis will face its first round of Pac-12 Championship play later this week, marking their first chance to compete for a conference title since 2019. The Trojans last won the conference in 2015.
USC will head down to San Diego with a largely different and more developed team than the one that last saw championship play two years ago, a team that made a semifinal run during that time. In the year prior to the semifinal run — head coach Alison Swain’s first year with the Trojans — the team only made the quarterfinals.
Swain’s changed squad hasn’t had too much success in the regular season, faring worse than their last complete season in 2018-19. Currently, they’re 5-5 on Pac-12 play with a 0.500 average on the entire season, a decrease from their 2018-19 stats, which put them at 7-3 in conference with a 0.714 overall winning percentage.
The upper hand heading into the weekend is the amount of match play the Trojans have been able to see.
“We have two players on our team who haven’t been to Pac-12 before,” Swain said. “But those players are grad transfers who have played in conference championships and postseason before, so they have that experience.”
Swain herself has experience competing for — and winning — big titles, too. Prior to USC, she led Williams College’s women’s tennis to eight division level championships.
Under Swain’s leadership, USC will need every ounce of that experience and will need to see the ball well during the most crucial points. The Trojans’ prior Pac-12 matchups have come down to a few make-or-break deuce points.
Arizona State — a team that knocked USC out of the most recent championships — lost to USC three weeks ago and marked the Trojans’ last win heading into this weekend.
To defeat teams like Cal, UCLA and Stanford — the Trojans’ three most recent losses and teams they’re more than likely to see if they make a deep run — USC will need to play like how they played Arizona State — or better.
Despite losing the doubles point to Arizona State, the team was able to rally in singles and capture five of the six first sets. USC’s aggression paid off and it will need to be on display when up against the might of other conference powerhouses.
USC’s fight for control of the matches will likely be backed up by the individual skill sets of each player, such as the counter-punching focus of redshirt senior Summer Dvorak’s game, and the team’s continued effort of rooting each other on — as they’ve been some of each other’s only spectators throughout the season.
“Reenforcing the positive self-talk, telling ourselves that we can do it,” junior Salma Ewing said. “We’re a very solid team and just believing in ourselves in those moments because we’re right there and in those deuce points and in those games, just being able to execute.”
The team will spend the next few days practicing and running through their normal drills, although tailoring practices to each player’s specific needs.
“I’m trying to focus on my footwork, my mental toughness,” Ewing said. “Also, just [focusing] on playing freely and swinging through my shots.”
As the Trojans look to hang in the most defining moments, they’ll need all the grace they can get on the court. And while a bracket has yet to be determined, USC could play in the first round as soon as Friday, and, if not, they’ll begin their quest Saturday.
“Everything’s single elimination at this point,” Swain said. “It’s just one match at a time.”