No. 16 USC Women Battle No. 7 Bruins For Pac-10 Advantage

April 13, 2010

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The USC women have Pac-10 title hopes up in the air as they head into a rematch with crosstown rival UCLA this week. The No. 16 Women of Troy (13-7, 5-1 Pac-10) will pay a visit to the No. 7 Bruins (18-3, 5-1) for a 1:30 p.m. face-off at Los Angeles Tennis Center on Friday (April 16). A USC victory on Friday would put the Trojans within reach of at least a share of the Pac-10 crown, which USC won last year with a perfect run through conference play.

The latest Campbell/ITA national team rankings (as of April 13) have USC ranked No. 16. The latest individual rankings also were released April 13. There, Maria Sanchez is ranked #3 in the singles nation to lead the Women of Troy, with #24 Alison Ramos also settled in the nation's top-25. She is followed closely by Trojan freshman #28 Danielle Lao, with fellow freshman Valeria Pulido at #100. In doubles, Lao/Sanchez rank #55, while Pulido/Sanchez rank #70 and Kinstler/Sanchez are ranked #80.

USC made it a winning weekend at home last week, capturing a pair of important Pac-10 victories to gather some momentum on the way into this week's match at UCLA. The Women of Troy put together a rather decisive 5-2 win over visiting No. 21 Arizona State in a key victory for USC. The Trojans grabbed the doubles point and then pinned up a series of straight-set wins with the clincher coming from Maria Sanchez on court one. The next day, USC served up a sweep of Arizona with another flurry of straight-set victories for a 7-0 win clinched by Danielle Lao at the No. 4 position.

Both USC and UCLA enter what was supposed to be the final week of Pac-10 dual-match play carrying one conference loss apiece. However, since rains washed out the Bruins' Pac-10 match at Cal, and the Trojans' match at Stanford also was interrupted by rain, the title race has gotten decidedly muddled. USC, UCLA and Cal all hold one Pac-10 loss to date. Rivalry matches are set to take place this week in LA (USC-UCLA) and up in the Bay Area (Cal-Stanford) to possibly bring some clarity to the picture, but if things are still knotted up and ownership of a shared Pac-10 title is still unclear, then deciding matches will take place in Ojai. That could mean another face-off for USC against Stanford, and/or a matchup between UCLA and Cal.

This week's USC-UCLA clash puts 2.5 points up for grabs in the race to the Crosstown Gauntlet, a trophy awarded annually to the school with the most successful athletic year against the other. Points are awarded to the winner of each Trojan-Bruin head-to-head contest (57.5 points is the magic number). USC captured the inaugural trophy in 2001-02, UCLA won it in 2002-03, USC recaptured it in 2003-04, UCLA won it back in 2004-05, USC claimed it in 2005-06, UCLA was victorious in 2006-07 and, for the first time in the competitions history, a school won it in consecutive years when USC captured it in 2007-08 and 2008-09. Currently, USC leads this season's competition, 42.5-35.

UCLA is ranked No. 7 in the nation and is 18-3 overall and 5-1 in Pac-10 play after sweeping Arizona 7-0 and beating ASU 4-3 last week. The Bruins' lone conference loss came to Stanford, and they also have a conference match pending due to the cancellation of UCLA's match at Cal due to rain on the same weekend that USC's match at Stanford was interrupted. UCLA has three players ranked in singles: #8 Yasmin Schnack, #26 Andrea Remynse and #51 Noelle Hickey. In doubles, #4 Remynse/Schnack and #77 Hickey/Pantic are ranked. USC is 42-32 all-time against UCLA after falling 4-3 earlier this season in a match at Marks Stadium. USC won last year's Pac-10 match against UCLA 5-2 at Marks Stadium.

At Marks Stadium on March 3, USC took then-No. 4 UCLA down to the wire in a chilly and tense nonconference match between the crosstown rivals. The Bruins took a 3-1 lead in the match before the Women of Troy fought back to tie it up, leaving a battle raging on court three between USC freshman Danielle Lao and UCLA's Andrea Remynse. Lao staged a comeback to force a third set, but Remynse managed the late push to win and clinch a 4-3 victory for UCLA. USC lost the doubles point, but got wins from Maria Sanchez, Alison Ramos and Valeria Pulido in singles play.

The USC men and women swept the March 2 Pac-10 Player of the Week awards thanks to a powerful week of play from junior Maria Sanchez. Ranked #3 in the nation in singles at the time, Sanchez got two more wins in the week, including an impressive upset of California's #2 Jana Juricova. After a smooth 6-2, 6-2 win over San Diego State's #58 Julia Trunk earlier in the week, Sanchez and the then-No. 10 Trojans went up against No. 3 California. Battling it out at the No. 1 singles position, Sanchez and Juricova played out three tough sets. When Juricova answered Sanchez' first-set win by taking the second set, Sanchez pulled ahead 2-0 in the third. Juricova responded to tie it 2-2, but Sanchez blasted out the next three games with a pair of breaks to go up 5-2. Juricova broke her back, but Sanchez had the last word with one more break to claim a strong 6-1, 2-6, 6-3 victory, helping secure the junior's second career Pac-10 Player of the Week selection.

En route to her current #3 singles ranking, Maria Sanchez has faced five different top-10 singles players so far in this 2010 dual-match play, and the junior can claim wins over all five. In that dual-match run, Sanchez has lost to and then beaten Baylor's Lenka Broosova and also holds a split against Cal's Jana Juricova. Sanchez' laundry-list of top-10 takedowns includes: #2 Jana Juricova (Cal), #8 Lenka Broosova (Baylor), #9 Josipa Bek (Clemson), #5 Yasmin Schnack (UCLA) and #8 Hilary Barte (Stanford). After a gutsy win over Washington's #15 Venise Chan, Sanchez moved from #3 to #2 in the nation on March 30. She pushed out to a nine-match win streak before falling to Juricova in yet another three-set battle. Sanchez quickly got back in winning mode the following day, however, topping Barte at Stanford. She now ranks #3 in the nation and is 26-6 overall with a 17-2 mark in dual-match action.

USC freshmen Danielle Lao and Valeria Pulido have been quick fits into the lineup for the Women of Troy. Lao has battled illness and injury and still stands strong for USC, holding a 22-9 overall singles record and is now 11-6 playing at the competitive No. 3 singles position. Pulido has a booming 26-8 overall singles mark, including a 16-5 dual-match record playing largely at the No. 4 slot. Both are enjoying time in the national rankings, with Lao at #28 and Pulido at #100.

Alison Ramos has leapt into the No. 2 singles position for the majority of USC's dual matches this year, and the sophomore has been holding strong at that competitive spot. She's toting a 24-13 overall singles record and is 13-6 in dual-match play, ranked #24 in the latest singles rankings.

USC's doubles lineup has seen some juggling throughout the year. Before March 26, the tough No. 1 position had seen Maria Sanchez alongside either Lyndsay Kinstler or Valeria Pulido -- both ranked pairings who combined for a 7-7 mark at the top slot. Danielle Lao and Alison Ramos were a strong duo at No. 2 with a 9-2 record at that position. The No. 3 spot had shifted hands, with Cristala Andrews and Pulido joining forces for seven dual matches and a 4-3 mark at the third spot. Once healthy, Sarah Fansler joined with Kinstler, and the pair has posted a 5-3 record in the past eight USC dual matches. USC pieced together new pairings at No. 1 and No. 2 starting March 26 to great success, with Lao/Sanchez having gone 4-1 together and earning themselves a ranking of #55. Pulido/Ramos also have joined forces at No. 2 and hold a 3-2 mark.As a whole, USC is 13-1 when it has won the doubles point, and is 0-6 when losing the doubles point in dual-match play.

Junior Cristala Andrews earned a spot on the prestigious All-Tournament Team at the ITA National Team Indoors after an undefeated run at the No. 6 singles position during the tourney. She currently holds the most singles wins on the team with a 23-8 overall mark, but has been sidelined by injury for recent matches.

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