2009 USC Women's Tennis Outlook|
Feb. 11, 2009
Something is different at USC this season.
The year-round nature of tennis typically is laced with a lull between the fall and the spring. But this time, USC head coach Richard Gallien senses less lull and more momentum for the Trojans' 2009 season.
"In years past I felt like we lost momentum in the break over Christmas because it's so long. This year, to the girls' credit, we haven't missed a step," Gallien said. "It's comforting because I don't feel like we're starting all over in the spring. There's definite momentum. The whole group has a healthy outlook; they're not afraid to play anybody. This team is excited to compete."
With the lineup the Women of Troy have for 2009, competition is inevitable. Only one senior graduated from 2008 -- albeit a three-time All-American and two-time NCAA singles finalist in Lindsey Nelson. The rest of the Trojan ladder is back for more, and a whopping five of them are ranked in the nation's top-100 as singles stars entering the spring.
Two-time All-American and team captain Amanda Fink is USC's lone senior for 2009 and is ranked highest at No. 16 in singles while sharing a No. 31 ranking in doubles with her 2008 Pac-10 Doubles Champion teammate Gabriela Niculescu. Now a junior, Niculescu clocks in at No. 67 in the rankings.
Scattered between Fink and Niculescu in the national ranks are three more Trojans. Sophomore Maria Sanchez had a powerful fall and secured a No. 22 slot for herself. Freshman Alison Ramos has proven herself a quick fit into the USC ladder, ranking No. 36 in singles and at No. 53 in doubles with Sanchez.
Spearheading USC's spring surge is junior Sarah Fansler, who has risen to a No. 38 preseason singles ranking and looks well on her way to hitting her stride for the Trojans. Fansler and Fink both were named Pac-10 Freshman of the Year in their first seasons at Troy, and Niculescu was tabbed the 2008 ITA Player to Watch. As a group, the USC senior and juniors are instrumental to USC's depth charge for the 2009 campaign.
"We really do have excellent leadership with Amanda as our captain as well as Sarah and Gabi as very mature and positive influences on the group," Gallien said. "Without question, this is the most depth that we've ever had."
Now a sophomore, Sanchez has climbed up the USC ladder to headline the Trojans' sophomore class. She has several solid classmates returning, however, with Leyla Entekhabi standing out as USC's winningest dual match player last season. Lyndsay Kinstler and Cristala Andrews also have grabbed their share of wins in dual match action and have been keyed into USC's doubles action as well. Kinstler has also proved strong in her early spring singles play with a run to the final in Las Vegas.
"They're all doing well. We're healthy and ready to go and everyone is prepared to contribute in singles or doubles or both.
"Our overall skill level in doubles has improved greatly with extra work as well as their own competitive nature as individuals. The fact that we competed so much in the fall, both in tournaments and in practice, it has certainly carried over into the season."
The talented shoes of Lindsey Nelson are undoubtedly a tough pair to fill, but the Trojans have a good group of newcomers adding to that depth charge that Gallien is so proud of for 2009. Freshman Alison Ramos has been the first of the bunch to be nationally recognized with her No. 36 spring start, and she certainly pulled her weight early with a strong fall on the singles and doubles scene. Joining Ramos as USC's newcomers for the season are Elizabeth Marsico, Katie King and Jennifer Goldman.
"Often it takes freshmen a while to get their bearings, and she's certainly jumper right in," Gallien said of Ramos. "I just feel that almost in every phase we've improved as a team -- from doubles play to conditioning to our fall results. "I think that the fact that we have five girls ranked as high as they are shows that we have many players that are capable of competing at the highest level. It just says we have a lot of depth."
That depth will be crucial down the stretch of another competitive season. USC is coming off its 10th straight trip to the NCAA Round of 16 or better, having finished 19-8 overall after reaching that 2008 NCAA Round of 16. Now, Gallien's Women of Troy are steeling themselves for the competition to come in the Pac-10 in order to make an even deeper run in the 2009 postseason.
"Certainly our first goal is to win the Pac-10," Gallien said. "If we can do that, it means we're one of the top teams in the country because the Pac-10 is the toughest conference in the country. The real trick is to be very healthy and hot at the end of the year, get on a run and see how far we can ride it."