USC Women Set To Shine In Malibu For NCAA Opening Rounds

    Zoë Katz and the Women of Troy are prepped for battle at Pepperdine this weekend.
    May 10, 2016

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    The USC women will open up their 25th consecutive NCAA appearance with a trip to Malibu this week, setting up for NCAA First and Second Round action May 13-14. The No. 20 Women of Troy (12-5), kick off their run with a matchup against UNLV (24-1) at 10 a.m. on Friday (May 13) at Pepperdine’s Ralphs-Straus Tennis Center. A win there would send USC to a 1 p.m. second-round matchup on May 14 against either No. 8-seeded host Pepperdine (21-2) or visiting Idaho (19-8) to fight for the right to a trip to Tulsa for the NCAA Round of 16 and beyond, held this year at the Michael D. Case Tennis Center in Tulsa, Okla., from May 19-24.

    March 1, 1998
    Marks Stadium

    This is USC’s 25th straight NCAA appearance and 34th overall trip, holding a 71-32 all-time record in the tourney. USC has won seven national championships in all, including NCAA titles in 1983 and 1985 after the NCAA began its women’s tennis championships in 1982. Last year, USC was the top-seeded team in the NCAA draw for the first time since 1985. In 2015, the Trojans reached the NCAA Semifinals, falling to eventual champion Vanderbilt. USC opened its 2015 run with 4-0 wins over Youngstown State, Virginia Tech and Texas Tech, then beat host Baylor 4-1 in the NCAA Quarterfinals before falling to Vanderbilt 4-1 in the semis to finish at 25-3 overall. It was USC’s third NCAA Semifinal appearance in 10 years.

    Under the direction of head coach Richard Gallien for the 21st season, the Women of Troy finished Pac-12 play in second place with a 7-1 conference mark to now stand 12-5 overall on the year. Led by returning All-American and lone senior Giuliana Olmos, the Women of Troy boast some solid young talent in 2016. Junior Zoë Katz adds a depth charge of experience in singles and doubles, with sophomores Gabby Smith and Madison Westby both bringing back their NCAA-savvy from last season’s run to the semis. Meanwhile, freshmen Jessica Failla and Rianna Valdes have made themselves right at home in the USC lineup and are making an impact for the Women of Troy. Olmos leads the way in the national rankings, sitting at #27 in the land in singles while enjoying a #6 ranking in doubles with sophomore Smith. Freshman Valdes also is doubled up in the rankings, slotted at #119 in singles with a #87 ranking in doubles alongside Failla. Sophomore Westby stands tall as well, grabbing a #117 singles rank while paired up with Katz as the #83 doubles duo in the nation. Failla also is locked into the doubles rankings at #60 alongside sophomore Smith.

    UNLV (24-1) is ranked No. 50 in the nation and is making its first NCAA trip since 2013 and 12th overall after securing an automatic berth as the winner of the Mountain West Tournament. UNLV’s last trip to the tourney was in 2013. The Rebels are coached by Kevin Cory, who is in his 17th season as head coach at UNLV. UNLV has #120 Carol Zi Yang nationally ranked in singles or doubles. USC is 6-0 all-time against UNLV after an 8-0 win in the teams’ last meeting in 1999.

    Pepperdine (21-2) is the No. 8 seed in the 2016 NCAA draw and ranks No. 8 in the nation, having earned an automatic berth for the fourth straight season as the West Coast Conference champions. This is Pepperdine’s 32nd all-time NCAA appearance. The Waves are coached by Per Nilsson, who is in his second season as head coach at Pepperdine. The Waves have #6 Luisa Stefani ranked nationally in singles and two ranked doubles teams: #19 Cutura/Maddox and #26 Stefani/ Runglerdkriangkrai. USC is 44-13 all-time against Pepperdine after a 4-3 loss earlier this season in Malibu.

    Idaho (19-8) is making it third straight NCAA appearance after clinching another automatic berth as the Big Sky champion. The Vandals are coached by Mariana Cobra, who is in her second season as head coach at Idaho. Idaho has no players nationally ranked in singles or doubles. USC is 1-0 all-time against Idaho after a 4-0 win in the 2014 NCAA First Round at Marks Stadium.

    The Women of Troy — NCAA semifinalists in 2015 — started the new year right where they left off, as the No. 2 team in the land in the first team rankings of 2016. In the latest round of national rankings (May 5), USC stands as the No. 20 team in the land. In the latest set of individual rankings (May 5), USC has three Trojans locked in with singles rankings. Senior Giuliana Olmos continues to lead the way, now ranked #27 in the nation. She’s followed by a pair of underclassmen — sophomore #117 Madison Westby and freshman #119 Rianna Valdes. In doubles, USC boasts the #6 pair in the land in Olmos and Gabby Smith,. Meanwhile, three other Trojan doubles pairing shine in the rankings: #60 Jessica Failla / Smith, #83 Zoë Katz / Westby, and #87 Failla / Valdes.

    USC’s winningest Trojan in the singles realm this season so far is freshman Jessica Failla, who was the first to crack the 20-win mark this season as she now holds 22 singles victories. That has her just ahead of junior Zoë Katz’ 20 wins and senior Giuliana Olmos’ 19 wins, while sophomore Gabby Smith also is on the cusp of the 20-win club in with 18 in the win column. In doubles, USC’s winningest pair is the powerful #6-ranked Olmos and Smith, who have tacked up 17 wins together so far this season.

    USC has a pair of Women of Troy in line for NCAA individual titles later this month. Senior Giuliana Olmos has secured a place in the 2016 NCAA Singles draw and also enjoys a 5-8 seeding in doubles alongside her power partner Gabby Smith. The high seed for the Trojan duo will earn Olmos and Smith a set of ITA All-American honors in doubles. The two Trojans will settle into the courts at the Case Tennis Center in Tulsa, Okla., later this month for the NCAA Individual Championships running May 25-30. For USC’s lone senior Olmos, this will be her third appearance in the NCAA Singles bracket. She’s looking to break through the Round of 32 barrier that she hit in 2014 and 2015. A 2015 ITA All-American in singles as a 9-16 seed that season, Olmos has pieced together an impressive senior season with the Women of Troy. Freshly inked for the second time on the All-Pac-12 First Team, Olmos holds a 19-11 overall singles record and is currently ranked #27 in the nation. Olmos and sophomore Smith have cultivated a powerful pairing this season, now ranked as the #6 doubles team in the land. This year’s NCAA Doubles appearance will be the first for Smith, who earned All-Pac-12 Honorable Mention this week, while Olmos has experience from last year’s journey to the NCAA Round of 16 alongside partner Zoë Scandalis. Olmos and Smith captured some serious hardware together earlier this season when the senior-sophomore duo won the Oracle/Masters Doubles Championship. Entering next week’s NCAA Team competition, Olmos and Smith boast a 17-8 overall record together.

    USC avenged an earlier loss to its rival with a powerful final home stand, beating No. 23 UCLA 4-1 at Marks Stadium in a unprecedented doubleheader with the USC and UCLA men’s teams. The day’s event opened with simultaneous doubles action, with the men and women playing out their respective doubles points alongside one another. While the USC men were unable to net the first point of the day, the Women of Troy got the job done for a leg up in their matchup with the Bruins. After the men played out their match, the women took the stage, and the USC women plowed farther ahead in snagging two quick singles matches, surrendering the next and then hammering home the clincher from Jessica Failla on court five to wrap up a 4-1 win for the Women of Troy. In doubles, the Bruins pulled off the first doubles win of the day with Fleming/Miller beating out USC’s #61 Zoë Katz and Madison Westby, but the Trojans had a serious response. On court three, freshman combo pack Jessica Failla and Rianna Valdes pinned up a 6-3 win over UCLA’s Magill/Wiley to make it all even. Then, on court one, USC’s top guns #9 Giuliana Olmos and Gabby Smith stepped to the plate and served up a 6-3 upset of UCLA’s #6 Harrison/Phillips. Smith sealed the deal with a sizzling ace to put that 1-0 lead on the board for the Women of Troy. The women would take a break while the men’s teams played out their singles section, and got back on the court a couple hours later to start up singles play. The Women of Troy were ready for the Bruins in the singles stretch, taking the first sets on four courts to take a position of power in the match. After drumming up a 3-0 lead in her match on court six, USC’s #121 Valdes stayed the course and took her Trojans to a 2-0 lead with a 6-2, 6-3 win over Maia Magill. Next, Katz was in winning mode herself as she forged a path to a 6-3, 6-3 win over UCLA’s Terri Fleming to nudge USC into position with a 3-0 advantage. The Bruins would get on the board when Alaina Miller managed a 6-0, 7-5 win over USC’s #99 Smith on court four, making it 3-1 and prompting the Trojans to find a finishing touch. Freshman Failla would answer the call. The #117 Failla fended off UCLA opponent Kristin Wiley’s attempt to force a third set and finally finished off the match with a solid 6-2, 6-4 clincher from court five. That put the all-important fourth point on the board for the Women of Troy, icing the rivalry clash for the USC cause and suspending action on courts one and two. There, #24 Olmos was in an all-out battle with #17 Catherine Harrison, while #123 Westby was looking to sidestep a third set against Kyle McPhillips.

    USC’s lone senior this season is the talented top gun Giuliana Olmos, the Trojans’ only ITA All-American on the roster and a true veteran for USC. Her list of accolades continues to grow. A 2014 Pac-12 Doubles Champion with then-senior Kaitlyn Christian, Olmos would also earn All-Pac-12 Honorable Mention and reach the NCAA Singles and Doubles Rounds of 32 in her sophomore season. As a junior, Olmos won the ITA Southwest Regional Doubles Championship with partner Gabby Smith and went on to reach the Pac-12 singles semifinals, earned a place on the All-Pac-12 First Team and worked her way into the NCAA Singles Round of 32 as a 9-16 seed and to the NCAA Doubles Round of 16. Now a senior captain for the Women of Troy, Olmos continues to raise the bar as she’s stepped into the No. 1 singles and No. 1 doubles slots this season. Olmos opened the 2015-16 season with her highest career singles ranking at #10 in the land. Her highest career doubles rank was #4 in February 2014 alongside Zoë Scandalis.

    Senior Giuliana Olmos and junior Zoë Katz are the veterans on the Trojan roster this season, with three sophomores and two freshmen joining them for the bulk of the playing time in 2016. Sophomores Gabby Smith, Madison Westby and Meredith Xepoleas got a lion’s share of experience as freshmen as they helped anchor USC’s run to a No. 1 ranking and a run to the NCAA Semifinals in 2015. This year, that trio of sophomores brings back their savvy in helping USC’s newcomers settle into the lineup. Freshmen Jessica Failla and Rianna Valdes are key components in the USC ladder, and both are ranked national singles rankings.

    USC had two Pac-12 road matches canceled by rain in March. USC’s March 11 matchup at No. 23 Stanford was the first to be rained out. On March 12, USC was in Berkeley to take on top-ranked California, but rain caused that match to be postponed until the next day. March 13 wasn’t much better, as the teams barely got started in doubles when rain halted the match. Both matches will be played as necessary in April in conjunction with the Pac-12 Championships in Ojai, Calif.

    Four years ago, USC women’s tennis decided it wanted to make a difference in the world. When then-junior Kaitlyn Christian’s mother was diagnosed with breast cancer, now-senior Giuliana Olmos was moved to find a way to help. Olmos and her teammates started the Rose Cup — named for Kaitlyn’s mother — to raise money and awareness for breast cancer research. Every fall since the event’s inception in 2012, USC student-athletes combine forces on the courts at Marks Stadium in support for the cause. Rose has since beaten her disease, and this season the Trojans dedicated their efforts in honor of Madison Westby’s aunt Pam, who is currently in her own fight with breast cancer. At the fourth annual edition of the Rose Cup — held in November 2015 — the $5,000 raised through the tournament, t-shirts sold and other donations went directly to Dr. Julie Lang’s research lab at the USC Norris Comprehensive Cancer Center.

    The 2015 Women of Troy had a banner season in earning their first #1 national ranking in over a decade and working their way to the NCAA Semifinals for the second time in four seasons. USC’s 25-3 final overall record marked the most wins by the program since USC won the NCAA title in 1985 and the most wins in head coach Richard Gallien’s 20-year tenure with the program. The Trojans also went undefeated in Pac-12 play in 2015 to win another conference title, and worked its way to the top of the national rankings for the first time since 2003. USC also was seeded No. 1 in the 2015 NCAA draw — the Trojans’ 24th consecutive trip to the tournament — entering the tourney as the top seed for the first time since 1985, when USC last won a national championship. In all, it was an outstanding season for the Women of Troy, who were a balanced mix of veteran strength and freshman talent. For seniors Gabriella DeSimone, Sabrina Santamaria and Zoë Scandalis, the year marked their second NCAA Semifinal appearance, having reached that round as freshmen in 2012. Santamaria and junior Giuliana Olmos both picked up ITA All-American honors at the close of the season. Scandalis would go on to earn high honors as a top-9 finalist for the NCAA Woman of the Year awards. •