No. 9 USC Women Take Aim At Ojai's Pac-10 Championships

April 22, 2009

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THIS WEEK: USC put a resounding final touch on the regular season in claiming the Trojans' first-ever Pac-10 Championship. Not only that, the Women of Troy won it outright -- a feat accomplished only by Stanford for the past 21 years. Although the Trojans ride a 12-match winning streak, their team prowess goes on the backburner this week as No. 7 USC (20-2) sets up to send players into singles and doubles competition at the Pac-10 Championships in Ojai, Calif. Conference individual crowns are on the line in Ojai, with action beginning Thursday (April 23) and running through the title matches on Sunday (April 26).

CAMPBELL/ITA RANKING UPDATES: The latest Campbell/ITA national rankings have USC at No. 7 in the nation, as of April 21. Singles and doubles rankings also were released April 21, with Maria Sanchez leading the way at #21 in singles and four other Women of Troy well settled in the nation's top-100: #27 Amanda Fink, #38 Sarah Fansler, #68 Alison Ramos and #78 Gabriela Niculescu. Four USC doubles duos also are nationally ranked: #9 Fink/Niculescu, #32 Niculescu/Sanchez, #56 Fansler/Kinstler and #80 Ramos/Sanchez.

PAC-10 PLAN: USC has three Women of Troy lined up for the Pac-10 Singles Championship bracket and another three playing on the Invitational side. In the mix for Thursday afternoon's first-round singles play are Amanda Fink, Gabriela Niculescu and Alison Ramos on the Championship side and Cristala Andrews, Lyndsay Kinstler and Elizabeth Marsico in Invitational play. In the doubles realm, which kicks off on Friday afternoon, Fink/Niculescu will go to work to defend their Pac-10 Doubles Championship, while Andrews/Kinstler and Marsico/Ramos are tabbed for Invitational doubles play. At the Pac-10 Championships, singles competition begins with a Round of 32, and doubles action starts up in the Round of 16. Last year in Ojai, Amanda Fink powered through to the singles title match, falling to UCLA's Riza Zalameda, and claimed the Pac-10 Doubles Championship with Niculescu later that same day.

IN THE HISTORY BOOKS: USC's perfect 8-0 record in Pac-10 play solidified the Women of Troy as Pac-10 champions for the first time in program history. A 5-2 win over UCLA on Friday secured USC as the sole undefeated team in the conference -- another USC first -- thanks in large part to big wins over rival Pac-10 powers Stanford and Cal this season. The Trojans' 5-2 win over the Cardinal snapped a 50-match losing streak to Stanford and notched USC's first win over the Cardinal since 1986. Stanford had either won outright or shared the Pac-10 title for the 21 seasons.

RECENT ACTION: Friday afternoon's clash against crosstown rival UCLA offered up a chance for USC to snap a five-match losing skid against the Bruins, wrap up an undefeated Pac-10 season, grab the Trojans' 20th win of the year, balloon their win streak to 12 straight, and put a stop to 21 years of Stanford standing at the top of the Pac-10 standings. USC put the finishing touches on all of that in tacking up a 5-2 win over No. 10 UCLA. In doubles, clutch wins from Fansler/Kinstler and Ramos/Sanchez snagged the doubles point for USC. In singles, Gabriela Niculescu made what was relatively quick work of her Bruin opponent, while Maria Sanchez was held off by her higher ranked opponent as UCLA closed in to 2-1. From there, the rest of the matches pushed on into deciding third sets. Leyla Entekhabi plowed her way through a big match at the No. 6 spot to make it 3-1 USC. Meanwhile, at No. 3, Sarah Fansler found herself in a third set as well. In the third, the two traded breaks and Fansler trailed 2-3 until winning three straight to take the lead and then win the match for USC with a 6-0, 4-6, 6-4 decision. In the remaining matches, Alison Ramos fell in three sets at No. 5, and at No. 2 senior Amanda Fink pulled off a comeback to win her 17th straight match and round out the historic finish for the Women of Troy. For her heroics in the win over the Bruins, Sarah Fansler was named Pac-10 Player of the Week -- becoming the third Trojan in the past four weeks to win the award.

THE 300 CLUB: USC head coach Richard Gallien hit a new benchmark early this season in claiming his 300th career victory. With a 4-0 win over Michigan State during ITA National Indoor Qualifying, Gallien bumped his career coaching record up to 300-128. He entered the 2009 season carrying an all-time record of 297-128, and he had posted a 235-104 record as head coach at USC. In his 16 years as a head coach ¬¬-- 13 of which have come at USC -- Gallien has strung together 13 straight NCAA appearances for his Women of Troy, 12 top-20 team rankings, six trips to the NCAA Quarterfinals, one to the NCAA Semifinals in 2006 and Round of 16 runs in the past two seasons. Under Gallien's watch, USC has finished no lower than 11th in the past nine years. With USC at a 20-2 mark through the regular season, his career record now stands at 317-130 entering the 2009 postseason.

TOP GUNS: Thanks to a tagteam effort from sophomore Maria Sanchez, junior Sarah Fansler and senior Amanda Fink all spending the bulk of their time in the top three singles positions, the Trojans have had a reliable force at the top of the lineup for much of dual match play. Though injuries interrupted some of her court time, #21 Sanchez has accumulated a 24-9 singles record on the season. #27 Fink leads all with 28 wins so far, including a 17-match winning streak for a 28-7 singles mark. #38 Fansler is at 19-13 overall, making her one of six Women of Troy holding at least 15 wins so far. #68 Alison Ramos is 25-10 overall; #78 Gabriela Niculescu is 24-11; and Leyla Entekhabi is up to 19-9 playing largely at the No. 5 and 6 positions.

SOLID AT SIX: Sophomores Lyndsay Kinstler and Cristala Andrews have been called upon several times this season to fill in at the No. 6 slot in the lineup, and both have come up big for the Women of Troy. Both boast winning singles marks overall and in dual match play. Kinstler is 12-10 overall and has gone 1-0 at the No. 5 position and 4-2 at No. 6. Andrews is 10-5 overall and 3-0 at the No. 6 position so far this season. They've both also factored into doubles play, as Kinstler ranks #56 in the nation playing with Sarah Fansler, and Andrews has filled in recently with Alison Ramos and with Leyla Entekhabi for a 4-1 combined mark in dual match doubles.

MIGHTY MARIA: Back in the singles lineup after being sidelined by injury for the previous three matches, sophomore Maria Sanchez had two powerful outings in singles action for the Trojans to help USC secure its first-ever Pac-10 team title. In doing so, Sanchez also worked her way toward her first career Pac-10 Player of the Week honor. Sanchez opened the winning weekend back in action by gutting out a three-setter at Arizona over Danielle Steinberg to help USC to a 5-2 win over the Wildcats. At No. 25 ASU the next day, Sanchez made shorter work of her highly ranked Sun Devil opponent #3 Kelcy McKenna with a straight-set win to get No. 9 USC to a 4-2 victory. With her two wins over ranked opponents, #18 Sanchez improved to 24-8 overall in singles and is 10-5 in dual matches.

FINK ON THE RUN: Senior Amanda Fink has won 17 straight singles matches entering the week, with glittering highlights coming in USC's bigger Pac-10 wins. Fink's match-clinching win at No. 3 vs. Cal was followed by a jump to No. 2 with Sanchez out of the lineup and another straight-set win to open singles against Stanford. At ASU last week, she came through with clinching heroics again to tip the scales to victory and push USC into a historic Pac-10 title. Those efforts have also gone along with a clean slate in doubles with Gabriela Niculescu to help USC to the doubles point in each match. For her dominance vs. Cal and Stanford, Fink picked up her first career honors as Pac-10 Player of the Week.

PAC-10 PUSH: USC took powerful steps forward in its campaign for its first Pac-10 team title by getting back-to-back big wins in recent matches with Cal and Stanford. The Trojans opened things with a 4-3 upset win over #8 Cal, clinching the match early with the doubles point and a string of straight-set singles wins capped by Amanda Fink at the No. 3 position. With Maria Sanchez out of the lineup the next day against #11 Stanford with injury, the Trojans adjusted and grabbed a historic win over the Cardinal -- who had either won or shared the Pac-10 title for the past 21 seasons. On March 28, #10 USC stormed to its first win over Stanford in 23 years with a 5-2 decision. The Cardinal had claimed the previous 50 straight dual matches against USC, but the Trojans came up big in doubles and followed that up with a quick win from Fink. A win at No. 5 from Leyla Entekhabi put the Trojans in position to clinch, while freshman Alison Ramos and sophomore Lyndsay Kinstler were gutting out three-setters on the other end of the court. Ramos pulled out her win first, and USC's streak-snapping win over the powerhouse Cardinal was in hand.

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