Feb. 15, 2006
It's a nice position to be in, watching your team begin the season ranked No. 5 in the nation and knowing that there's still nowhere to go but up. Welcome to USC women's tennis head coach Richard Gallien's world... where -- from top to bottom -- his roster is bursting at the seams with talent and an experienced knowledge of the most valuable trait in the sport: How to win.
Gallien, in his 11th season at the helm of the Women of Troy's shining tennis program, has seven players back from last season's seventh-ranked squad. Also added to the roster are one experienced senior and another high-flying freshman who are both primed to help steer the Women of Troy to another powerful season.
"We have two fabulous additions to our team in Amanda (Fink) and Luana (Magnani). And with everyone else coming back, we feel we have an excellent opportunity to improve on what we did last year," Gallien said of his Trojans, who went 21-4 last season and reached the NCAA Quarterfinals in USC's 10th straight trip to the NCAA Tournament. "We should certainly be a step up in terms of talent."
"I think collectively as a group they're all very experienced. I think that's an other edge that we have this year over last year. We only have one player coming in who doesn't know what to expect, and that's freshman Amanda Fink. And she's already shown that she has no trouble playing at this level. We have a great deal of level-headed people who understand how to get the job done."
That job started in the fall and heats up quickly for the Women of Troy. An early Feb. 17 clash with top-ranked, defending national champion and fellow Pac-10 powerhouse Stanford will give the experienced USC squad a valuable measurement of their conference and postseason potential. Already, Gallien sees a strong step forward for the Trojans on the doubles scene. Health and reliable returning rackets give USC an added depth charge in doubles this season.
"Last year we had some enormous injury issues that forced us to juggle the doubles lineup a lot," Gallien recalls. "I think our team couldn't have done a better job as far as handling that and going with the flow, but that just wasn't our strength. We should show a considerable improvememnt there."
Additionally, USC's singles strength returns in full force, led by sophomore Lindsey Nelson, who put forth a stellar first season at Troy and is poised to lead USC in 2006 as well. An All-American as a freshman playing primarily at the No. 2 position, Nelson went 35-8 overall and 19-1 in dual matches to finish ranked No. 16. Nelson has seemingly endless weapons that make her --in Gallien's eyes -- "very capable of winning the whole thing. She proved she's able to play and beat anybody in the country."
"She has an enorous amount of firepower and ability. I don't see any reason why Lindsey can't have every bit as good of a year as last year. She only lost one match last year."
With Nelson another year older, a new freshman phenom has stepped in to keep USC's youthful talent level high. Fink -- the lone lefty of the bunch -- turned plenty of heads in the fall and seems prepped for a similarly successful spring and beyond. Gallien and the rest of the tennis world will be watching, but Gallien isn't anxious about the freshman's first year on the collegiate scene.
"She's a very accomplished competitor and is certainly going to be put in a position where we're expecting her to play at a high level both in singles and doubles. With her I'm not worried about her at all."
Part of the key to bringing along young talent is having good leadership ahead. With a year under Nelson's belt, the experience of juniors Anca Anastasiu, Judy DeVera and Dianne Matias, the return of senior Luana Magnani and the guidance of senior captain Carine Vermeulen, USC's formula for success has taken a solid shape.
"Dianne, Judy, Carine, Anca and Lindsey were such studs last year and so reliable, it will be nice to have some depth this year," Gallien says. "Having Luana back I think is a big help to the team for many reasons, but certainly it's an exciting opportunity for her to finish her years at USC on a good note. Two years ago she played No. 1 and was an All-American."
Fellow senior Carine Vermeulen was USC's No. 5 singles player last season and went 26-12 overall, finishing out the year on a nine-match win streak. She teamed up with Nelson part-time for doubles and wound up ranked No. 42.
"Carine won two big matches at NCAAs and made the All-Tournament Team," Gallien said. "Sometimes you get a senior who is really dragging themselves to the finish line but she's the opposite of that. She is well-liked and respected; for us it's the perfect senior to have."
The Women of Troy also have a few key juniors back for more, including last year's No. 3 singles player Anca Anastasiu, who went 29-11 overall and 8-0 in Pac-10 play to finish ranked No. 48 in singles and No. 44 in doubles with Nelson.
"She's proven herself to be a very hearty competitor who in the clutch is extremely reliable," Gallien said. "I have no doubt she'll have a great year and win a high percentage of her matches."
Fellow junior Dianne Matias was USC's No. 4 singles player who finished 2005 ranked No. 90 with a 31-10 record, including a 19-3 dual-match mark.
"She'll always be remembered for winning the deciding match against UCLA last year, cramping and still figuring out a way to win," Gallien said. "She has the highest character of anyone you'd meet matched by equal talent. She's a rare find."
Junior Judy DeVera played at the No. 6 position as a sophomore and went 9-13 overall and 7-7 in dual matches. She's healthy this season, which give Gallien high hopes for the experienced junior.
"She has all the potential for a great year," he said. "She's healthy for the first time in two years. As long as we keep her fresh she'll do just fine."
"As a group, we have an extremely talented group of walkons, all of whom can certainly challenge in our lineup and have done an amazing job of lifting the level of our practices," Gallien said of newcomers Whitney Peterson, Ashley Ellis and Amber Harper, who round out the 2006 Trojan roster along with returners Erin Everly and Taylynn Snyder.