USC Women Take Off For Tulsa With NCAA Title Hopes

May 13, 2008

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TEAM PLAY: In keeping with tradition the Women of Troy are bound once again for action at the 2008 NCAA Division I Women's Tennis Championships, having once again made a home as one of the top 16 teams in the nation with two wins in the opening rounds of NCAA competition. After 4-0 wins over Marist and Pepperdine last week in Los Angeles, 10th seeded USC takes a 19-7 overall record into an NCAA Round of 16 clash with No. 7 seed UCLA at 3 p.m. on Thursday (May 15). The Trojans and the Bruins take their crosstown rivalry to the courts of the Michael D. Case Tennis Center in Tulsa, Okla., where USC continues its quest for an eighth national championship. The Women of Troy have reached the NCAA Round of 16 every year since the tournament grew to 64 teams in 1999. The 2008 NCAA Team Championships are set to run May 16-20 in Tulsa, followed by NCAA Singles and Doubles competition.

FOLLOW ALONG: Live scoring and other information will be available online throughout the NCAA Championships at Tulsa's TOURNAMENT CENTRAL.

SINGLES SCENE: USC has also pushed three Women of Troy into the upcoming NCAA Singles Championships, set to be held May 21-26 at the Michael D. Case Tennis Center in Tulsa, Okla. Junior Amanda Fink is the tournament's No. 6 seed in the singles action, joined by senior Lindsey Nelson and sophomore Gabriela Niculescu as at-large selections. Fink and Nelson both have been in the NCAA Singles mix before. Fink, who leads the Trojans with a 35-9 overall singles record and is ranked No. 6 in the nation, reached the Round of 16 in 2006 as a freshman. Now a junior, Fink recently worked her way into the title match of the Pac-10 Singles Championships last week, winning four consecutive straight-set matches before finishing the tournament as the Pac-10 runner-up. A senior, Nelson is a veteran of the NCAA Singles Championships, having reached the championship match the past two seasons. Nelson worked her way into the NCAA Round of 16 as a freshman, then powered to the final as a sophomore in 2006 and again as a junior in 2007. In 2006, Nelson fell to Cal's Susie Babos in the championship match, and in 2007 Miami's Audra Cohen captured the title over Nelson. This season, Nelson has fought through injuries but has held strong in the national rankings. She holds a 13-14 overall singles record and is currently ranked No. 57 in the nation. For Niculescu, this will be the first NCAA appearance for the sophomore, who did not compete in her first year at USC. She boasts a 30-10 overall singles mark and was a semifinalist at the recent Pac-10 Championships. Niculescu is ranked No. 49 in the nation.

DYNAMIC DUO: Scoring a slot in the upcoming 2008 NCAA Doubles Championships in Tulsa are powerful Pac-10 Doubles champions Amanda Fink and Gabriela Niculescu. The Trojan pair will do double duty in Tulsa, mixing up singles competition with doubles action as a 5-8 seed for doubles play. Fink/Niculescu have accumulated a 33-10 overall record after their sweep through the Pac-10 tournament and an NCAA dual match win last week and are ranked No. 5 in the nation.

ITA RANKING UPDATES: USC ranks #10 in the nation in the latest ITA team rankings (released April 28). The latest individual rankings also were released on April 28, with four Trojans in the rankings -- Pac-10 singles runner-up Amanda Fink ranks #6, followed by #49 Gabriela Niculescu, #57 Lindsey Nelson and #97 Maria Sanchez. In doubles, Pac-10 champions Fink/Niculescu are ranked #5 in the nation.

NCAA NOTES: With this year's NCAA ticket, the Women of Troy are making their 26th overall appearance in the NCAA team tournament and 10th straight trip to the NCAA final 16 -- a feat only USC and Stanford can claim since the tournament grew to 64 teams. The Trojans have won seven national team titles and now are 56-24 all-time in NCAA Tournament play as of May 11, 2008. The 1983 and 1985 crowns were both NCAA titles, as the NCAA began its women's tennis championships in 1982. USC's 1977, 1979 and 1980 titles were AIAW championships, and in 1977 and 1978 the Trojans also claimed the USTA national championships.

RECAPPING THE PAC: In a busy day of championship action at the Pac-10 Women's Tennis Championships in Ojai, Calif., Amanda Fink came away with a doubles title and a runner-up finish in singles. Fink reached the Pac-10 Singles title match for the second time in her Trojan career, but fell 6-3, 6-4 to UCLA's Riza Zalameda. Later in the day, she teamed up with Gabriela Niculescu and powered to the Pac-10 Doubles Championship with a 7-5, 6-1 win over Cal's Cossou/Ilcinkas. Fink/Niculescu become the second Trojan pair ever to claim the Pac-10 doubles crown. The last USC winners were Lupita Novelo/Ginny Purdy in 1987. In order to break back into the champions column, the Women of Troy had to get past the upset-minded Cal pair of Cossou/Ilcinkas. The No. 2 seeded Trojans had a relatively tight first set against the Bears, but pounded out a decisive second set to lock down the doubles title with a 7-5, 6-1 victory. In her second appearance in the Pac-10 Singles championship match, second-seeded Fink had to get past a familiar foe in fourth-seeded Riza Zalameda of UCLA. The pair had clashed in USC's final regular-season dual match, and Fink captured a 5-7, 7-6 (4), 1-0 (10-8) win over Zalameda after the dual match had already been decided as a UCLA victory. Fink moved into the Pac-10 Championships with a three-match singles win streak and ballooned it to seven in a row entering today's singles title match with Zalameda. After four straight-set wins in the Pac-10 tourney, Fink came up against a tough opponent in Zalameda, who managed to take the Pac-10 crown with a 6-3, 6-4 win over Fink.

THIS TIME LAST YEAR: The No. 8 seed into last year's NCAA tournament, USC reached the 2007 NCAA Round of 16 in Athens, Georgia, where the Trojans fell 4-3 to Miami -- the same team USC had met in the 2006 NCAA Semifinals. USC finished 19-5 overall in 2007. To get to the action in Athens, USC first posted a 4-0 win over Boston University in the NCAA First Round and then topped Texas 4-0 in the Second Round. Individually, USC had two players compete in the NCAA Singles Championships in Athens. A freshman, Sarah Fansler fell in the first round to Vanderbilt's Amanda Taylor. Meanwhile, junior Lindsey Nelson powered her way to her second straight NCAA Singles final -- first upsetting second-seeded Megan Falcon of LSU in the semifinals -- before fell to top-seeded Audra Cohen of Miami in the title match.

WINNING WAYS: Although her win streak was snapped at a 17-0 run through dual match singles play, Leyla Entekhabi stands out as one of USC's most successful dual match players, going 20-2 in dual matches and now holding a 29-9 overall mark. She was named the Pac-10 Player of the Week after capturing her 14th straight win to clinch victory for the Trojans in Texas. Gabriela Niculescu recently pulled even in dual match wins with her 20th after a pair of victories in USC's opening NCAA dual matches last week. Just a step behind in dual match wins, but leading the Women of Troy in total singles victories is Amanda Fink, who holds an overall singles mark of 35-9 and a dual match record of 19-5.

30-SOMETHING: Four Women of Troy are toying with that 30-win mark to date. Junior Amanda Fink has already settled into the thirties to lead all Trojans with 35 wins so far (35-9 overall, 19-5 dual) while sophomore Gabriela Niculescu recently tallied her 30th last weekend to stand at 30-10, 19-6. Freshman Maria Sanchez captured her 20th singles win in Texas and now holds a 27-11 overall record and 18-6 record in dual matches, and Leyla Entekhabi is closing in on 30 with a 29-9 overall mark and 20-2 dual match tally. Throughout the regular season, every Trojan went .500 or better in dual match singles play.

SENIOR STAR: Lindsey Nelson -- 2007 Pac-10 singles champion and three-time All-American -- has made back-to-back trips to the NCAA singles final. A two-time Honda Award finalist, Nelson is USC's lone senior on the roster this year, and she brought a 91-27 overall singles record into the dual match season. She opened with four straight wins at the No. 1 singles slot this year, and ranks #57 in the ITA rankings. Battling injuries, Nelson now holds a 13-14 overall record and 11-11 dual match mark against some of the top players in the nation. Nelson's 100th career singles win came in a match against a familiar opponent -- Cal's Susie Babos, who beat Nelson in the 2006 NCAA Championship but lost to Nelson in the 2007 Pac-10 Championship -- on Feb. 29 in USC's first dual match against the Bears.

BACK FOR MORE: USC has two National Rookies of the Year on the roster for 2008. Now a junior, 2006 Rookie of the Year Amanda Fink is joined by 2007 Rookie of the Year Sarah Fansler. Fansler and Fink stacked up at No. 2 and No. 3 singles, respectively, throughout much of the 2007 season. After leading the Trojans in singles wins with 32 as a freshman, Fansler earned a spot in the NCAA Singles Championships along with Nelson. Last year, Fink shined in singles and doubles once again, and earned her second All-Pac-10 selection. Now ranked No. 6 in the nation, Fink leads the Trojans with 35 singles wins, going 19-5 in dual match singles play and 35-9 overall. Although injuries have limited her time on the court this year, Fansler holds an 11-10 dual record and 13-15 singles mark so far this season.

DOUBLE TROUBLE: Gabriela Niculescu sat out her first year at Troy but is good to go for 2008. She and Amanda Fink were a quick success together in fall doubles action, claiming the ITA West Regional doubles championship, and have remained dominant throughout, recently capturing the Pac-10 Doubles Championship. The pair now ranks #5 in the nation and is 33-10 overall and 18-6 in dual match play. Niculescu also has proven herself a singles powerhouse as well. Appearing in every dual match this year, she's 20-6 in dual match play and is 30-10 overall, now ranked #49 in the ITA rankings.

FIRST THINGS FIRST: USC has added four freshmen to the 2008 roster, and all four made sure to make a quick jump into the win column. Cristala Andrews, Leyla Entekhabi, Lyndsay Kinstler and Maria Sanchez have all proven themselves as winners, tacking up victories in dual match play and in individual tournaments this season. The freshman foursome has gone a combined 47-10 in singles dual match play this season.

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