Women's Tennis Has The Formula For Success.

Jan. 12, 2001

Speed. Sacrifice. Spirit. Success.

In other words, the perfect definition for the 2001 USC women's tennis team.

'We're fast, we're athletic and we're committed,' said sixth-year head coach Richard Gallien. ' We have speed, players who will sacrifice for the team, team spirit and the potential for great success. These `four S's' are what best describes this team,' 'They are all players who will fight, not only for themselves, but for their school. These traits are going to make this season successful.'

After reaching the NCAA Quarterfinals for the past two years, the Women of Troy are more eager than ever to prove their worth on the collegiate scene.

'Expectations are always high on our team,' said Gallien, who has accumulated a 78-54 (.591) record at USC, including an 18-9 last season. 'Having reached the quarterfinals of the NCAA the last two years, it is obvious that our expectations are now set much higher. We are capable of going farther than that this year.'

But the strength of the women's tennis team lies within its depth and experience. USC must depend on a very young, but seasoned set of returners and three team newcomers.

'The team is very fast and very talented but extremely inexperienced so it is my hunch that we will be much better at the end of the season than we will be at the start,' said Gallien. 'Last year's freshmen were thrown to the fire and they did gain valuable experience by being out there every day. They got a good taste of what the competition is like.'

Gone from last year's squad are Veronika Safarova, Kara Warkentin and Jacqui Boyd who played at the No. 1, 2 and 4 positions in the lineup. Safarova was one of two USC players selected to play in the 2000 NCAA Singles Championships, Warkentin stood out at No. 1 doubles by qualifying for the NCAA Championship, while Boyd captured the Pac-10 Invitational doubles title.

Although USC will surely miss the contributions of these individuals, a talented group of players has already proven to be worthy replacements.

The loss of Warkentin, Safarova and Boyd leaves room for returners to move up and newcomers to quickly blend into the lineup. What's more, with no seniors on this team, the Women of Troy should be well equipped for years to come.

'We'll suffer some growing pains at the beginning of the season, but as long as we continue to improve we're going to be very good,' said Gallien. 'It's an excuse to say we're young. It's actually a benefit because this team will get to know each other and will be playing together for the next couple of years.'

The team will look to sophomore Jewel Peterson (College Park, Ga.) for leadership this season at the top of the lineup after a standout freshman campaign and start of the 2001 season.

Peterson doesn't believe in wasting time. As a freshman she earned 2000 ITA All-America honors after advancing to the NCAA singles quarterfinals before falling to eventual champion Laura Granville of Stanford (the last time the Women of Troy had a freshman honored as All-American was in 1992 when Petra Schmitt completed her first season ranked 20th). Even in her first few months at USC, prior to the start of the regular season, Peterson claimed two titles - the Arizona State Tournament Championship and ITA Region VIII Championship.

So without skipping a beat, the then 26th-ranked Peterson defeated 63rd-ranked Michelle Gough of Arizona in straight sets, 6-3, 6-3, to repeat as the 2000 ITA Southern California singles champion this past November. More importantly, en route to her tournament victory, she upset UCLA's Sara Walker - the No. 1 seed and third-ranked player in the country - in a third set tiebreaker to advance to the finals. Peterson is now ranked No. 9.

Joining Peterson are junior Krissy Hamilton-Heinberg (Agoura Hills, Calif.) and Caroline Christian (Frankfurt, Germany), and fellow sophomores Tiffany Brymer (Apple Valley, Calif.), Anita Loyola (Tucson, Ariz.) and Christina Irinco (North Hollywood, Calif.).

Hamilton-Heinberg and Christian have both spent the majority of the last two seasons off the court because of injuries.

'In a way, both of these players are our secret weapons because no one has seen them play recently,' said Gallien. 'They were both outstanding prep players with a lot of tennis left to play in their careers. We're excited to have them back in the lineup.'

Loyola and Brymer played nearly every match last season as freshmen, each earning their share of honors. Loyola won the back draw title at both the ASU Invitational and ITA Regionals and played at the No. 5 position in dual matches. She finished the season with a 32-11 overall singles record. Brymer played mostly at No. 6 singles and No. 1 doubles, eventually advancing to the NCAA Doubles Championships with Warkentin. She and Warkentin earned a No. 27 final ranking with a 13-14 record.

Irinco, a sophomore walk-on in 2000, played as a reserve last season.

The new generation of USC women's tennis includes three standouts: Maureen Diaz (Glendale, Calif.), Bernadette Bayani of Sierra Summitt Academy in Simi Valley, Calif., and Melissa Esmero of Mater Dei High in Huntington Beach, Calif.

Among the three, Diaz is not actually a newcomer to the collegiate game. She transferred to USC after playing the 2000 season at UC Irvine. As a freshman, she led the Anteaters at the No. 1 spot and became the first player at UCI to receive an invitation to the NCAA Singles Championships and completed the season ranked No. 74.

'Athletes like Bernadette and Melissa, who were both top 10 prep players, will have to play right away and they're going to have to do a good job for the success of this team,' said Gallien. 'We do have the benefit of having Maureen, who already brings a year of experience under her belt. She already proved herself last season and finished in the top 50.

'I'm very optimistic about this team. They've known each other and have played against each other for a while, so I have a feeling that I'm not going to have a difficult time getting them to fight for each other. That's very important to our success.'

As is typically the situation, the 2001 Pac-10 season will offer tough competition with five teams ranked in the top-15, including No. 1 Stanford, No. 5 Cal, No. 7 Arizona State, No. 9 UCLA and No. 12 USC.

'The first couple matches of the season are so big for us because it really sets the tone,' said Gallien. 'We'll have the Arizona schools here to start Pac-10. Two years ago when we beat them at home it was an enormous confidence builder for the rest of the season. We hope we can start the season the same way this year.

'We want to finish high in the conference standings, but that's not nearly as important as finishing high nationally. That's how we gauge our level of success.'

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