Stronger Than Ever

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Written by Sarah Bergstrom, USC blog contributor

The Trojans received heartbreaking news this week when they discovered that Sabrina Santamaria, defending doubles national champion and the No. 17 ranked collegiate singles player in the country, would be out for the season with an ACL injury. Adversity in the form of losing one of your best players is not easy to overcome, but in the face of challenge, equipped with an unparalleled team bond, the USC women's tennis team vows to be stronger than ever.

"I had a feeling it was pretty bad right when it happened," recounts Santamaria. "It was a routine move for me. I think the only thing that was different is that the courts were really gritty and my shoe just kind of snagged on it and the next thing I knew I saw my leg twist completely. I was in so much pain I fell down and couldn't move for 20 minutes. It was such excruciating pain."

For the junior Trojan tennis player, the road thus far has been smooth and full of success. In just two and a half seasons, her overall singles record is 79-19. Last summer, Santamaria took home a sliver medal at the World University Games in Russia and last season as a sophomore, she won the first ever collegiate tennis "Triple Crown" with doubles partner Kaitlyn Christian. She entered this season ranked No. 1 in both singles and doubles, poised to lead her team to a top finish. Without a doubt, the women's tennis team will be missing its biggest contributor the rest of the way, but the coaching staff believes it's an opportunity for the group to develop in other ways.

"Having Sabrina out for the year is a huge loss. An NCAA champion and former No. 1 in singles and doubles, she is a rock for our team," associate head coach West Nott says. "Moving forward, our team is extremely deep and we still have our eye on gunning for a Pac-12 Championship and NCAA Championship. We just have to win in a different way, using our depth. It's still a team sport, and Richard (Gallien) and I know that this is a great team."

Moving forward is exactly what Santamaria has in mind. This week, the athlete, who has never had surgery and has never really been injured at all, is waiting for the swelling to go down in her knee before doctors repair her ACL and meniscus. The injury and the road to recovery hasn't been easy and, according to Santamaria, on Sunday, as she laid on the Texas tennis courts, she felt like the world was coming down around her. But her teammates' support and her determination to fight on have turned havoc into hope.

"When I woke up on Tuesday I just decided that I'm not going to let this affect me," Santamaria says with a big smile. "This is a minor set back but I'm going to be back. There's another season and maybe one after that which makes things better. I've had so many people encouraging me this week and I'm really positive right now. My teammates have been nothing but supportive."

The junior will try for a medical redshirt in hopes of getting two more seasons of tennis from the NCAA, but regardless, with her senior season on the horizon, she will still get to close out her USC career the way she's always intended. Her mission now has shifted from being the best on the court to being the best teammate possible. Fellow juniors Zoe Scandalis and Gabriella DeSimone have no doubt that Santamaria will be with them every step of the way this season, whether it's singing Beyonce in the weight room or refining their technique on the court.

"She always adds to the energy of the room," says Scandalis. "I know that she will be there encouraging us. Even this week, just two days after her injury, she came out on the court and immediately started cheering us on. It hurts to see her walking around on crutches but she's such a strong person and I know that's going to influence all of us."

As a major leader for the No. 6 ranked Trojans, Santamaria's impact from the sideline is already being felt. But according to the Trojans, the love goes both ways as they've made it their aim to support and inspire their injured teammate as she undergoes recovery.

"We are going to do our absolute best by her when we're playing, and when we're not playing we're going to do everything we can to keep a smile on her face," Scandalis adds. "We know she's going to come back mentally tougher, she's going to learn a lot, and she's going to grow as a person."

With the impending graduation of her doubles partner Kaitlyn Christian, Santamaria says it's hard to know she can't finish her NCAA career by her side. However, the junior is confident the duo will play together in the pros and while she looks forward to what lies ahead in the conclusion of her own Trojan career, Santamaria is excited to turn the focus to what her team can do in the next two months.

"Honestly I think we have a great chance at a national championship because there really is no clear number one in women's college tennis right now," Santamaria explains. "There are upsets everywhere and it's really up for grabs for anyone. I think our team is really hungry for it, especially now, and we are all really pulling for each other. That's what separates us from other teams, our closeness is so unique."

The team faces its first test right away when UCLA visits Marks Stadium on Friday afternoon kicking off the conference season. With a crosstown rivalry and Pac-12 Championship hopes on the line, the USC women's tennis team will be playing for a lot more than a W. The moment they step on the court, they'll be playing for each other and they'll be playing for Sabrina.

"As a team we all have to step it up. Not only just as tennis players but as teammates," concludes Scandalis. "We have to be better for each other. Somehow things always seem to happen for a reason. For us, I think that'll end up being true as well."

1 Comment

Who are they kidding? Gallien is accomplished what in this his seventeenth year at the helm? He reached the final four once, maybe twice never getting to the championship match. His teams seem
to find a way to underachieve year after year. They have no shot at a title this season. Lost 5-2 to the 'ruins at home on Friday. A change at the top is needed for next year.

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