“Talking Tennis” is a column by Nick Kauffman about tennis.
For the USC women’s tennis team, the cancellation of the spring season due to coronavirus is a blessing in disguise. When the season was cut short, the Trojans sat at a 7-6 overall record and had fallen out of the ITA rankings after starting the season ranked No. 11 in the country. Three of their six losses came to rivals UCLA, Stanford and Cal, and they managed to win only three total points over those three matches.
The disappointing start to the season for the Women of Troy is not as alarming as it may seem at face value. While they certainly did not meet expectations, especially after an impressive 2018-2019 season, there are reasons to explain why they fell so short.
The first big change from last year is the absence of 2019 graduate Rianna Valdes. Last season, Valdes played three singles, but more importantly, was paired with current senior Angela Kulikov in doubles. Valdes and Kulikov ended last season as the No. 1 doubles team in the country, which was a huge help to the Trojans last season.
The second — and perhaps biggest — reason for the disappointing season this year was that three starters were out with injuries. Senior Becca Weissmann had upper body surgery in the offseason and was not yet medically cleared to play by the trainers. Sophomore Salma Ewing, who spent last year playing in the top singles spot, was out with a head injury. Freshman Carson Branstine had knee surgery in the offseason and missed the entire season.
Missing three bonafide starters is a huge loss for the team; they were essentially missing half of their starting lineup. Weissmann was a strong doubles player last year from the two spot and had lots of success with sophomore Danielle Willson. Ewing was the top singles player on the team last year and impressed as a freshman. With a full season under her belt, she was poised to be even more dangerous this season. Branstine was one of the top recruits coming into the season and has been one of the most impressive juniors players in the world. She could have easily slotted into one of the top three singles positions.
The season’s cancellation gives these three players the chance to take their time with recovery and properly heal. The team will once again be one of the most feared teams in the country and could compete with perennial frontrunners UCLA and Stanford for the Pac-12 title next season.
While there were disappointments from the team this past season, there were also quite a few bright spots, the first being the play of freshman Eryn Cayetano. In the short-lived fall season, she paired up with Kulikov to form a strong doubles team. The two managed to post an 8-2 record and climbed up to No. 16 in the doubles rankings. Cayetano, however, was much more than a doubles specialist as she easily inserted into the singles lineup, achieving an 11-4 record and becoming No. 44 in the country. She also managed to clinch two matches.
Another bright spot for the team was Kulikov, who has been a leader of the team for the past two seasons. After dominating doubles last season, her form carried over to this season in both singles and doubles. Along with her No. 16 doubles finish alongside Cayetano, she reached a career-high No. 15 ranking in singles, posting a 16-4 record and leading her team in wins.
Despite the unfortunate circumstances for the cancellation of the spring sports season, the team finds itself in a lucky position with the chance to get healthy and be capable of playing to its full potential. The struggles from this season were a one-off due to untimely injuries. Ultimately, this is a very strong team that can compete with any team in the country. Next year will be their opportunity to show exactly how good they are.
“Talking Tennis” runs every other Tuesday.