As a member of the Brigham Young women’s tennis team for two seasons, junior transfer McCall Jones never had the chance to face USC. However, she isn’t a stranger to the heated rivalry.
“I just knew of the rivalry growing up,” Jones said. “Being from Southern California, (I’m) always hearing about UCLA and USC and how they hate each other.”
Now a Bruin, Jones will face the Women of Troy for the first time as she and the UCLA women’s tennis team take on rival USC today at the Los Angeles Tennis Center. Although the match does not count toward conference standings, the No. 17 Bruins (7-4) realize the importance of getting the victory.
“We always want to focus on the next match, too, but with ‘SC, I feel like it requires a whole new game plan. We want to beat them,” said senior Noelle Hickey, who also transferred to UCLA but already has two matches against USC under her belt.
“We want to set the tone for the rest of the season, and there’s no better way than to beat ‘SC.”
The Bruins are on the courts for the first time since the Indoor Championships, where they dropped two out of three matches. UCLA was also slated for a match against Pepperdine last week, only to have it postponed because of inclement weather.
With the longer gap in between matches, UCLA coach Stella Sampras Webster has had the team focus more on some of the weaknesses that were evident during the indoor tournament.
“Since the Indoors, we’ve been working a lot on our fitness, a lot on being disciplined and on being consistent,” Sampras Webster said. “It’s going to be a battle. We’re just getting them ready for the challenge.”
The Bruins have not dropped a home match this season, but none of those matches was against a top-25 team. UCLA is 1-4 against such teams and is now focusing on staying toe-to-toe with the elite teams.
“The goal is to stay competitive,” Hickey said. “We’ve taken a couple of losses, so we’re working hard, and we know we’re ready to play.”
The last match between the two rivals could have hardly been called a battle, as the Bruins dismantled the Women of Troy 6-1 on April 16, 2010. A matchup earlier that season between the two teams yielded a closer score but the same outcome: The Bruins beat the Women of Troy 4-3 at the Marks Tennis Stadium on March 3, 2010.
No. 15 USC (7-1) comes into Westwood with a four-match win streak, riding on the strong performances of senior Maria Sanchez. UCLA may have its hands full with Sanchez, who is currently the No. 2 singles player in the country.
But the Bruins are ultimately looking to feed off of the energy that comes with a rivalry match to put themselves back on a winning streak.
“I think our team is a lot better when there’s a lot on the line,” Sampras Webster said. “They understand that it’s a big match that neither team wants to lose. I think they’re prepared to feed off of that energy.”