2007 USC Women's Tennis Outlook|
Feb. 1, 2007
USC women's tennis head coach Richard Gallien knows what he has to work with this year.
And so does the rest of the tennis world.
The Trojans finished the 2006 season ranked No. 3. This season, that's exactly where they sit once again. And for good reason.
Five members of that NCAA Semifinalist ladder return. Three are seniors. One was a Honda Award finalist. And one was the Pac-10 Rookie of the Year. Add to that a senior addition and a freshman who has already proven herself a powerhouse in singles and doubles, and the Women of Troy have all the hands they need to climb those two steps to the top.
"The big mistake that we could make it trying to strive only to get back to that NCAA semifinal - like we're defending something that's ours. It isn't ours," Gallien said. "The trick is to shoot past that and strive for more. You can play to win or you can play not to lose and defend something. We're just looking to get higher.
"I'm super optimistic. I think we actually have the level of players and individuals that we can do some exciting things."
Experience has a lot to do with that talent level. Seniors Anca Anastasiu, Judy DeVera and Dianne Matias have been regulars on the courts for the Women of Troy throughout their careers. This season, they are joined by Julie Smekodub, who has one last year of eligibility after transferring from Tulane, which shut down its tennis program following Hurricane Katrina. That senior class provides an experienced anchor of stability, which is all the more steadied by the successful hands of junior Lindsey Nelson, who reached the 2006 NCAA Singles Final and was named a Honda Award finalist. On the sophomore list is 2006 Pac-10 Singles finalist and Freshman of the Year, Amanda Fink, whose left-handed game turned plenty of heads in her first year at Troy. Rounding out that regular dual match roster is freshman Sarah Fansler, who won the ITA West Regional Singles championship in the fall to make her statement on the collegiate tennis world as she begins her USC career.
"I think we have seven girls who all could participate in the NCAA tournament individually if they have a good year," Gallien said. "But still, it's easier to talk collectively than individually. Some teams have one All-American. We have a lot of girls who could play No. 1 at any other school.
"This year we have the flexibility to mix and match more than in years past. We have some true competition within the team which we haven't had as much of in years past."
That said, the Women of Troy did graduate two important elements to their 2006 NCAA Semifinalist squad in Luana Magnani and Carine Vermeulen - both of whom posted important wins in the NCAA Tournament and finished the year in the ITA national rankings.
"We lost Luana and Carine, who were good players, but we got Julie and Sarah this year. With everyone else back, we expect to be a team to reckon with," Gallien said.
The faces may be familiar, but teams will still be hard-pressed to find a weak spot in the Trojans' star-studded roster. And with the extra depth of junior Ashley Ellis, sophomores Amber Harper and Whitney Peterson and freshmen Katja Decker-Sadowski and Gabriela Niculescu, if anything, it will be a question of which star will shine brightest each day.
"In a lot of our big matches this year, we'll have a lot of different people who stand out," Gallien said. "Everyone is extremely competent. In the past, if the match came down to one person, there would be a couple people who would stand out as having the ability to come through. This year it could be anybody."
Once again, USC has a schedule ahead that will push the Women of Troy to another road-tested trip toward the postseason. The Pac-10 Conference itself offers such heated competition that the Trojans are guaranteed true battles from start to finish. Top-ranked defending NCAA and Pac-10 champs Stanford stand in the way as usual, and USC also has powerful nonconference teams scheduled such as Pepperdine, Texas and Fresno State.
"We have a schedule that's extremely challenging," Gallien said. "It's up to us every match to really show up ready to play. Our Pac-10 schedule, for starters, is the toughest in the country. We're in the hunt with a bunch of good teams again. I think we're lucky to have them, and they're lucky to have us, because the ultimate goal is to advance far in the NCAA Tournament."
The tools are there. The talent is deep. And the Trojans are certainly hungry to win.
"It's a great mix - not just of freshmen, sophomores, juniors and seniors, but of characters," Gallien said of his 2007 squad. "The team has a lot of life to it and it's not necessary that we're all the same and play the same and have the same upbringing. That has nothing to do with anything, as long as everyone has the same passion for trying to accomplish the same thing, which is win a title, we'll be very difficult to beat."