1998 USC Women's Tennis Preview|
When USC women's tennis coach Richard Gallien talks about his 1998 squad, you might expect him to start a lot of sentences with the words "health permitting" or "if we're in good shape." But he says he'll try and avoid that kind of talk.
Despite the fact that injuries nearly decimated the 1997 team that went 10-16 overall and 0-10 in the Pacific-10 Conference South and finished No. 32 in the nation - the Women of Troy rarely fielded their entire regular lineup - nearly all of the team returns and Gallien chooses to focus on the positives that await the season.
"It's important not to dwell on the injuries from last year," said Gallien, who enters his third season at USC (26-25), and his fifth season overall (88-49). "It has been an obstacle, but it's not a question of if we'll overcome it, but when we'll overcome it. There was nothing career-threatening.
"I'm looking forward to this season and having everyone healthy. Everyone has made great improvements. It's easy to say that if we're healthy, we'll be better than last year, and that's a reality."
Though USC entered the fall with a preseason ranking of No. 26, Gallien believes that with 8 letterwinners back and one of the nation's most talented recruits, the Women of Troy's ranking at the end could be much better.
"I think we can get back into the top 10 in the country," Gallien said. "That's our first goal. When I look at the players on our team, they're all very talented and very dangerous. We have the kind of players where there's no ceiling on how well they can play. If everything goes well and our team gets on a roll, our opponents won't enjoy playing us."
Gallien believes that a new emphasis on success in doubles play and the addition of assistant coach Glenn Michibata, a former top professional singles and doubles player and Canadian Davis Cup team member, will also help in 1998.
The Women of Troy lost only three little-used players from the 1997 team, which had the season end in the final of the NCAA West Regionals. The trio had a combined singles record of 1-6.
The No. 1 player on the ladder from a year ago and the likely candidate to start there again is junior Ditta Huber (12-21 in singles in 1997).
Juniors Karolina Bakalarova (17-17) and Eva Jimenez (13-16) and sophomores Jacqui Boyd (10-5) and Veronika Safarova (11-10) all are quality veterans who are expected to have good years for the Women of Troy.
Two seniors on the team, each with a great deal of experience, are still trying to get healthy. Nicole London (7-13) missed time last season with an injury to her right shoulder and is recovering from surgery in December. Pam Trump (12-13) underwent left ankle surgery in November and probably won't be ready until February or March.
Senior Amber Basica (5-6), who could see action while those two are out, rounds out the returners.
There are two key additions: Krissy Hamilton-Heinberg and Kara Warkentin. Hamilton-Heinberg was the top junior in Southern California over the last several years and should make an immediate impact as a freshman. She did not play tennis in high school but instead has been a regular at professional satellite tournaments. Warkentin, a sophomore, transferred from Fresno State in January and will add much-needed depth.
It's largely the same group as last season, but it should be enough for a successful 1998 campaign.
"Everyone has a good attitude and is looking forward to this year," Gallien said. "Even with the problems we had last year, in our losses, our matches were always close. This season I think we'll have the ability and the team to win those matches."