Jan. 24, 2013
SAN DIEGO, Calif. - The University of San Diego women's tennis team's 2011-12 season will go down as one of the best in school history and this year's squad is hungry for another WCC championship. The Toreros get their first chance to make a splash on the national stage this weekend at the ITA Kickoff in Los Angeles.
After winning their season opener 5-2 over Cal St. Fullerton, the No. 48 Toreros will attempt to qualify for the ITA National Team Indoor Championships this weekend. To do so, the Toreros must beat the host team, No. 2 UCLA, and then the winner of No. 43 South Florida versus No. 47 Washington.
The Toreros went 13-9 (9-2) last season on their way to winning their first ever WCC title. They finished with a No. 50 ITA ranking and advanced to the second round of the NCAA Tournament where they fell to No. 28 Vanderbilt 4-1. Head Coach Sherri Stephens was honored with her third career WCC Coach of the Year Award, while Juliette Coupez and Anna Depenau both earned first-team All-WCC recognition in singles. On the doubles side, Depenau and Maja Sujica took home first team accolades.
This year, the team will be without Coupez, Sujica, and Marite Raygada, who all graduated. "We did lose a good core of the team. Juliette Coupez, who played one, was the stabilizer of the team," Stephens said. "She was just one of those kids that loved tennis. She ate, breathed, and drank tennis."
Although Coach Stephens lost three girls from last year's WCC Championship team, a handful of significant contributors remain. Depenau, a junior from Geilenkirchen, Germany, is coming off her best season as a Torero and opened the fall season at No. 75 in the ITA singles rankings. The Toreros also return junior Idil Haciraifoglu and seniors Stephanie Hoffpauir, Cara Brown, and Laura Claus, who was named to the All-WCC Second team in doubles (with Coupez) and an honorable mention selection for singles.
"Laura Claus has been our captain for a couple years and she pretty much leads the team along with Cara Brown, who is also a captain. They do a really good job with the girls," Stephens said. "Hoffpauir worked really hard over the summer. Her attitude is great and she is in great shape."
Stephens scoured the globe to find four outstanding freshman, all of which she expects to make immediate contributions. Marta Stojanovic (Belgrade, Serbia) and Alexandra Victorsson (Stockholm, Sweden) played in the fall season, while Shani Blecher (Shoham, Israel) and Mikayla Morkel-Brink (Cape Town, South Africa) arrived in San Diego only a few weeks ago.
"The new kids are very good, so they are going to be in the lineup," Stephens said. "I just like who they are as players, people, and athletes. They are great athletes, who are really committed to playing tennis."
The Toreros, currently ranked No. 48, will be tested early. Eight of their remaining 12 out of conference matches feature opponents currently ranked in the ITA's top-30, including three of the top five.
"Some of the matches we have this year I feel like we are matched up with pretty evenly. We are ranked No. 48 preseason, and most of the teams we play are ranked in the 20's," Stephens said. "Those are the ones I feel we match up with really well, and I think we can pull off some wins over teams that are ranked 15-20, like Michigan, Texas, Texas Tech, and Nebraska. I think some of those schools will be really fun to play."
After a brutal out of conference schedule, the Toreros will look to capture their second straight WCC Championship. To do so, they will need to once again take down the mighty Pepperdine Waves, who are currently ranked No. 33 and have made the postseason every year since 1987.
"The thing is, I think the girls know what it feels like now, to have beaten Pepperdine and obviously one of their goals is to defend the championship," Stephens said. "I'm honestly really excited. I don't know if I've ever had a team that has this good of chemistry. They are all really tight, we've only been together maybe a week, with two of them coming in in January, and they are great girls. They are really good players, really hard workers, and every single girl is all about school and tennis."
The Toreros will be in action Saturday and Sunday at the ITA Kickoff Weekend in Los Angeles. USD will face No. 2 UCLA at noon on Saturday before facing either No. 43 South Florida or No. 47 Washington.
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