2003-04 USC Women's Tennis Season Outlook|
Jan. 21, 2004
Change is good.
Most collegiate tennis coaches would get nervous when a large class of seniors departs, especially a class that included two All-Americans and four of the top five players in the lineup, but it does not bother USC women's tennis coach Richard Gallien a bit.
"Change is exciting and I enjoy the new challenge," said Gallien who enters his ninth season at the helm of the USC women's tennis program. "It is so interesting to see the dynamics of a new group. All of these players have great character and they give our team great strength."
Last year's squad, guided by four-time All-American Jewel Peterson, advanced to the NCAA Quarterfinals and finished the season ranked No. 5 with a 22-6 overall record. During the season, the Women of Troy posted a number of firsts, including a three-week stay at No. 1 for the first time in 17 years.
"Last season was very exciting and we certainly felt good about reaching the No. 1 spot and advancing to the NCAA Quarterfinals," said Gallien, whose teams have advanced to the quarterfinals four of the last five years. "On the other hand, to lose to Cal to end our season at the NCAAs was disappointing, but it was still a great year."
"Even though we will most likely be starting three freshmen, I think our team may be even stronger this year," said Gallien. "Our players are very competitive and mentally tough. Once they start to gain a little bit of experience, I believe that competitiveness will make them very good."
Team leadership on the court now becomes the responsibility of junior Luana Magnani (Pasadena, Calif.). Magnani has already enjoyed two successful seasons at USC playing at No. 2 singles and doubles. Last season, she completed the year with a 20-7 singles record, advanced to the second round of the NCAA Individual Championships and was ranked No. 24 in the final singles polls.
She enters 2004 at No. 24 in the ITA preseason singles rankings after going 5-4 during fall competition.
"When Luana is healthy, she is one of the best players in the country and I think she will have the opportunity to prove that this season," said Gallien. "She's a fierce competitor who will win a lot of matches for us."
The team will also depend on the experienced play of sophomore Carine Vermeulen (Stellenbosch, South Africa). Last year, Vermeulen proved to be one of the team's toughest competitors. She dropped only three matches all season at No. 6 singles (19-3) and of her 22 matches played, only two went to a third set. Vermeulen's biggest challenge this year will be trying to continue that success at a much higher position in the lineup.
Vermeuelen is the only other USC player to be ranked in the ITA preseason polls. She is ranked 70th in singles and 42nd in doubles with Magnani.
"Carine is capable of playing at a very high level," said Gallien. "She will have to make some adjustments this season because we will need her to play a lot higher in our lineup, but she is a great player who will be successful at any position."
Due to the depth on the squad the past two seasons, Bayani has played a limited amount of dual matches. But her limited experience does not mean she has not contributed to the team's success. In January of 2003 she reached the singles final at the Pac-10 Indoor Championships then topped off her season by capturing the Pac-10 Invitational Doubles title with Esmero in May. This fall, Bayani advanced to the semifinals of the Cal State Fullerton Fall Classic and the Palm Springs Fall Desert Classic, compiling a 7-4 singles record.
"Our seniors have been a real bright spot for us this fall," said Gallien. "Melissa has always been such a steady competitor and a great example for the new players, while Bernadette, who has struggled at times, has been tremendous this fall. She is going to make players compete for their positions.
Esmero has also had to compete for position over the past two years but has been a steady and reliable force for the Women of Troy in singles and doubles when called upon. In 2003 she made 12 appearances at No. 6 singles, posting a 9-3 dual match record (she went 14-8 overall in singles play). She held a permanent spot in the doubles lineup for much of the season, playing at No. 3 with Vermeulen. The pair went 12-7 for the year. Esmero went 25-12 overall in doubles for the season, which included the championship tournament run with Bayani.
"In the past, I have not had the luxury of having enough players so that they had to compete for positions. Everyone knew where they were going to play and didn't have to worry about pushing themselves, but it's a different story this year. We have a very deep and talented roster and I hope the competition will push us."
Matias hails from Carson (Calif.) High, where she spent her senior year playing No. 1 singles and doubles for the Colts (she studied through Futures High for her first three years of high school). In her only season competing at the high school level, Matias captured the Los Angeles City Section singles championship, while leading Carson to the team final. Matias rose to the top of the USTA junior rankings on numerous occasions. She was the nation's No. 1-rated singles player in 2000 and 2001 in 16s and even reached No. 264 among the international rankings in 2000.
DeVera, a prep teammate of Matias' at Carson, lettered for four years and found great success at the high school level. She was the 2001 Los Angeles Times Tennis Player of the Year and a three-time L.A. Times All-South Bay first team selection. She, along with Matias, led Carson to the city championship playing at No. 2 singles and paired with Matias at No. 1 doubles.
Sauer, who hails from Camarillo and studied through Laurel Springs High, is a player that has also had much success on the national scene. Her highest ranking came in 2000 when she was rated fourth in the USTA under-16s. The following two seasons she maintained her place among the nation's top 100 with key tournament performances such as advancing to the singles final of the USTA National Open in 2003. At 17 years old, she is the youngest player on the Women of Troy roster.
"Judy and Dianne are very similar players," said Gallien. "They are very athletic, very strong and smart players. Judy is a very quick learner, while Dianne brings a lot of experience, having played all around the world against top-level competition.
"Erica is also an extremely talented player with a ton of firepower. Once she gains a little bit of confidence, she will be as good as anyone on the team.
USC also welcomed newcomer Anca Anastasiu (Pretoria, South Africa) in January. Even though she did not join the team until the start of the spring semester, Anastasiu is expected to compete at a top-four position for the Women of Troy.
Upon entering the collegiate ranks, Anastasiu was a highly touted player on the international circuit. Anastasiu, who prepped at Pretoria's Crawford College (equivilant to the high school level in the United States), has been rated in the WTA's (Women's Tennis Association) international rankings for several years. She recently earned her highest WTA singles ranking in September of 2003, when she improved to No. 647.
"People make take us lightly this season because of who we lost, but I think this team is going to be just fine," said Gallien, who boasts a 201-100 (.668) career record. "I don't know if we'll be able to win more than last season, but I do know that we'll be a better team."
USC enters the season ranked sixth according to the ITA's preseason polls. As is usually the case, the Pac-10 looks to be one of the strongest conferences with seven teams ranked among the top 26, including No. 2 Stanford, No. 3 California, No. 6 USC, No. 7 Washington, No. 11 UCLA, No. 19 Arizona State and No. 26 Arizona. Five other opponents on USC's schedule are also ranked among the top 50, including No. 21 Notre Dame (who USC faced during the fall season), No. 27 Texas, Pac-10 opponent and 40th-ranked Oregon, No. 42 Pepperdine and No. 46 San Diego.
The Women of Troy open the 2004 dual match season with a pair of home matches on Jan. 22 and 23 when they host Long Beach State and TCU, respectively. All home matches will be played at USC's David X. Marks Tennis Stadium.
The season concludes with the Pac-10 Individual Championships, April 22-25, in Ojai, Calif., followed by the first and second rounds of the NCAA Championships, May 14-16, at sites to be determined.