Women’s tennis set for battle with UCLA

The USC-UCLA Rivalry is back for another edition, with the women’s tennis teams getting ready to duke it out at Marks Stadium. (Daniel Park | Daily Trojan)

The spring season is heating up as No. 24 women’s tennis prepares to host its crosstown rival this morning. The game was originally planned for Friday, but got postponed due to rain. The last time USC and UCLA faced off, the Trojans snapped a 5-game losing streak against the Bruins to conclude the 2022 regular season. Head Coach Alison Swain and the 6-2 Trojans are  looking to sustain their newfound success Monday morning. 

“We love playing at home, it’s so fun. We love our fans, our stadium [and] the atmosphere here,” Swain said. “[The] UCLA rivalry match is one of the most motivating matches in the regular season … I think the girls will bring their best, competitive selves.” 

Earlier this month, the Trojans traveled to the Lone Star State for their first contest against a top-25 opponent. The then-undefeated No. 8 Texas Longhorns revealed themselves to be the Trojans’ adversaries thus far. Texas’ No. 79 ranked sophomore Sabina Zeynalova led the Longhorns’ sweeping 6-1 victory in a straight-set win over USC’s No. 43 ranked redshirt sophomore Snow Han.

Despite the loss, the Trojans returned to California equipped to demonstrate resilience and willpower on the court. USC shut out UC Santa Barbara 7-0 to finish off a month-long stretch of away games.

“We’ve had a pretty long training block in February which has been really nice for us,” Swain said. “The girls have been working really hard, we’ve been focused a lot on our first four shots in singles, in particular, and our serve return, since Texas. I think that helped us against Santa Barbara.”

The Trojans continue to incorporate the lessons learned from the Texas matchup into their future game plans. Swain’s need to “dig in and put scoreboard pressure on the board.” A USC player in the lead must stay focused to extend it, Swain said, and a deficit must “keep the score close and fight for some momentum.”

UCLA experienced a shaky start to the season. In January, they shut out Loyola Marymount yet struggled to win matches in South Florida against No. 4 Iowa State and Florida International. On the West Coast, they encountered a series of canceled matches at UC Berkeley and St. Mary’s. 

Growing pains and lack of courttime are worth noting, but the Bruins will enter Friday with two straight victories and a will to return to their historically successful style of play. 

USC boasts a slew of ITA-ranked players. No. 4 freshman Madison Sieg was recognized as Pac-12 Player of the Week on the home-opening weekend. Since then, she has continued to impress by tallying 7 straight wins and dropping just one set this spring. 

“Everybody needs to be the leader of their court,” Swain said. “Certainly having somebody — like [Sieg] — come in [and] have the success she’s had on her court, in terms of her record, allows everyone else to have a little more confidence.”

USC also has No. 24 ranked senior Eryn Cayetano, another proven leader in this star-studded lineup, No. 111 ranked redshirt sophomore McKenna Koenig and No. 124 ranked freshman Emma Charney. In doubles, the Trojans compete with two top-ranked pairs: No. 19 ranked junior Naomi Cheong and Han and No. 29 ranked Cayento and Sieg.

The Bruins have two ranked players of their own: No. 57 ranked freshman Fangran Tian and No. 64 ranked sophomore Ava Catanzarite. 

Another singles player to look out for is unranked freshman Anne-Christine Lutkemeyer. Lutkemeyer defeated Charney to earn the Singles Title at the Women of Troy Invite. She also earned her first clinching win in the Bruin’s most recent match against CSU Northridge.

In doubles, USC will face UCLA’s most recognizable duo: No. 6  ranked sophomore Kimmi Hance and sophomore Elise Wagle. 

“We feel really good about our doubles play and UCLA has strong doubles too,” Swain said. “The energy and intensity of the doubles play — if we can set a standard there — [will] set the standard for the rest of the match.” 

The USC-UCLA rivalry will continue Monday at 10 a.m. at Marks Stadium.