2010 USC Women's Tennis Season Outlook|
Feb. 12, 2010
Go ahead. Bring on the obstacle course.
In the world of collegiate tennis, it's always best to expect the unexpected. Fortunately, USC head coach Richard Gallien has a practiced hand at successfully adjusting to the ebb and flow that a long tennis season contains. Additionally, he has a 2010 roster that is crafted for one of the key elements of a successful season: Competition.
"Each year has its complete new set of obstacles and triumphs and hardships. All we can do is just basically have a good system in place where all we're trying to do is compete the best we possibly can every day," Gallien said. "What I like is I think we have great competitive spirit. We have some ladies who are really starting to get the whole competing thing and are buying into the fact that it's not just how well they play, but how well they compete. If you don't have battlers, you lose."
The battle has already begun. All but two Women of Troy return from last season's squad that went 21-3 and won the program's first-ever Pac-10 championship in 2009. And with the addition of two standout newcomers to the lineup in Danielle Lao and Valeria Pulido, the Trojans will present some powerful competition for all comers in 2010.
"With the exit of Gabi [Niculescu] and Amanda [Fink] and the entrance of Danielle and Valeria it just has a totally different feel in the sense that I feel like we're overnight really young, and however very skilled and athletic. So the changes are exciting and we have plenty of people from last year who have made big jumps with their tennis," Gallien said. "Fall results showed that we are going in a pretty good direction with Maria Sanchez winning [the ITA Regional singles championship] and we have a lot of people ranked in the top 40. I think it shows that nationally the kids are in the mix."
USC opened the 2010 dual match season ranked No. 9 in the nation with four players on that top-40 chart. Senior Sarah Fansler battled illness in the fall and was not included in those preseason singles rankings, although as USC's lone senior with NCAA experience, Fansler's potential to be a force for the Trojans is clear. As it is, back-to-back ITA Regional singles champion Maria Sanchez leads the charge in the preseason rankings with a No. 8 ranking to start the year. Freshmen Lao and Pulido are next in line, as Lao sits at No. 18 and Pulido is at No. 37. She's just steps ahead of another Trojan underclassman, No. 39 Alison Ramos.
"Ali Ramos has been playing great, as has Maria," Gallien said. "The only person bit by the early injury bug is Sarah, but if there's one person who can miss time and come back to play full force, it would be her."
With Fansler the only senior on the squad, there are four juniors anchoring the Women of Troy for 2010. Sanchez has proven her power time and again around the top of the USC lineup, and her fellow juniors Cristala Andrews, Leyla Entekhabi and Lyndsay Kinstler have all come up with big wins for the Trojans. They all factor in heavily to the Trojan depth charge, which looks to be key to a long and winning season for USC.
"They've all shown improvements," Gallien said. "Lyndsay has been playing really well in doubles, and Leyla as always is solid as a rock. Cristi has worked really hard and has had a lot of very exciting results, so I feel like we have a lot of depth.
"Winning the Pac-10 championship was a very exciting accomplishment for us and certainly this year we're trying to build upon that and use that to boost our confidence."
Of course, the strong start to Lao and Pulido's Trojan careers is another hefty boost. Both were considered top recruits as they came into Troy, and they've proven why. They've meshed quickly with their teammates on and off the court - factoring into the doubles and singles lineups and picking up preseason national rankings while also providing a quick-fit into the positive team chemistry that is paramount this season with the Women of Troy.
"I think it's really helped our team the fact that the freshmen have come in and been so mature right away," Gallien said. "They're really calm about it. They're the two most level-headed kids, and they're team players. As a group, they all seem to get along really well. And there's a nice spirit about them."