THIS WEEK - The No. 5 USC men's tennis team is on the prowl for back-to-back Pac-12 Tournament titles this week as the Trojans enter the second annual installment of the conference tourney in Ojai, Calif., as the No. 2 seeds once again. While the Pac-12's women's teams compete in singles and doubles draws, the Pac-12 men's teams are vying for an automatic berth in the coming NCAA Team Championships. The winner of this week's Pac-12 Men's Team Tournament books a ticket to NCAAs. This year, USC (22-3) has earned the No. 2 seed into the Pac-12 team bracket, putting the Trojans in Friday's (April 26) 3 p.m. semifinal, where they await their opponent from the previous days' rounds played between the third-eighth seeds. Opposite USC in the draw is top-seeded UCLA, presenting the distinct possibility that the Trojans would face the Bruins in the Pac-12 title match for the second straight season. USC and UCLA have already tangled three times this season, all in 4-3 decisions with the Bruins claiming two wins to USC's one. The Pac-12 championship bout is set for 4 p.m. on Saturday (April 27) at Libbey Park.
ITA RANKING UPDATES
The USC men opened the season slotted as the No. 2 team in the nation after the Trojans made history with four consecutive NCAA team championships. The Trojans later flip-flopped between No. 2 and No. 3 for the next few weeks, and the Trojans now are currently ranked No. 5 in the latest ITA national team poll (released April 23). The Trojans still boast more than a full lineup of Trojans in the ITA singles and doubles lists (released April 23). A whopping seven Trojans are locked into the top-100, led by junior Emilio Gomez at No. 4 and junior All-American Ray Sarmiento at No. 17. Sophomore All-American Roberto Quiroz is next in line at No. 34, followed by sophomore Yannick Hanfmann -- the clincher of the 2012 NCAA Championship -- at No. 65 and sophomore Eric Johnson at No. 80. Sophomore Jonny Wang clocks in at No. 93, just ahead of junior Michael Grant at No. 94. In doubles, the Trojans have lumped a variety pack of five different pairings into the nation's top-100 duos. No. 40 Hanfmann/Sarmiento lead the way, followed by No. 44 Gomez/Quiroz, No. 69 Hanfmann/Johnson, No. 77 Gomez/Johnson and No. 90 de Vroome/Quiroz.
The April 2 round of national rankings had three Trojans at their highest career spots -- #9 Ray Sarmiento, #86 Jonny Wang and #87 Michael Grant. Emilio Gomez held his career best in the March 26 cycle at #2, and Roberto Quiroz was up to #23 during the March 12 cycle. There has been some movement down the stretch, but the Trojans still boast a whopping seven players in the national singles rankings and five teams in doubles.
For just the second year, the Pac-12 is hosting a team men's tennis tournament to determine the automatic qualifier for the NCAA Men's Championships. Teams are seeded based on won-lost percentages during regular-season Conference play. On Wednesday (April 24), matches between No. 5 seed Washington and No. 8 seed Arizona opens play at 11 a.m., followed by a 2 p.m. matchup between No. 6 seed Oregon and No. 7 seed Utah. No. 4 seed Stanford awaits the No. 5/8 winner at 11 a.m. on Thursday (April 25), with No. 3 seed California awaiting the No. 6/7 winner at 2 p.m. Top-seeded UCLA and No. 2 seed USC advance directly to the semifinal round on Friday (April 26). All men's tournament matches will be played at Libbey Park, culminating with the team championship at 4 p.m. on Saturday (April 27). The men's team final will be televised on tape delay on Pac-12 Networks on Sunday (April 28) at 5 p.m. The Ojai Valley Tennis Tournament is a 112-year tradition, dating back to 1887. The four-day tennis extravaganza includes competition for juniors, non-Pac-12 collegiate players, and an open event. The Pac-12 has had a presence at the event since 1954.
Peter Smith JOINS 500 CLUB
A two-time ITA National Coach of the Year and four-time NCAA Team Champion in his first 10 seasons at USC, head coach Peter Smith's milestone 500th career win came as the Trojans' 18th victory of the 2013 season -- a 6-1 win over Stanford on March 29, 2013. Smith now boasts a 504-200 career record as a head coach. Almost half those wins have come in his time at Troy, where he is now 234-65 in his 11th season with the Trojans. Smith, who has guided USC to the NCAA Championship the past four seasons, has also served as a head coach at Long Beach State (50-47), Fresno State (102-57) and Pepperdine (118-31) during his 26 seasons as a head coach.
USC's recent stretch of matches have seen several different Trojans notch their 20th singles wins of the season. Six Trojans are now living large in the club, with sophomores Roberto Quiroz and Eric Johnson the first to break out of the pack, now with 33 and 31 wins to date, respectively. Emilio Gomez, Yannick Hanfmann and Ray Sarmiento all hit 20 on March 25. USC's 20-win heavy hitters include Jonny Wang (28), Ray Sarmiento (25), Yannick Hanfmann (25), Max de Vroome (24) and Emilio Gomez (22).
PLENTY OF PAC-12 PUNCH
USC's depth charge of talent has reaped plenty of rewards this season. Five different Trojans have earned honors as Pac-12 Player of the Week for their winning ways throughout the regular season. Junior Emilio Gomez led off the honor roll with the Jan. 29 award following straight-set singles wins at the ITA Kick-Off Weekend. The next week, freshman Max de Vroome was honored on Feb. 5 as he extended win streaks in singles and doubles during a stretch of five USC wins in a six-day period. Next on the list was sophomore Yannick Hanfmann, whose Feb. 19 pick came as he helped lead USC back to the ITA National Team Indoor title match with three straight-set singles wins. The following month, sophomore Roberto Quiroz got on the board with Pac-12 Player of the Week honors on March 26 after he punched in wins from both the singles and doubles courts to move the Trojans through a victorious road trip in beating #15 Illinois and #27 Notre Dame. The final Trojan to join the list of honorees was junior Ray Sarmiento, who helped USC roll along to a 10-match win streak while building up 11 straight singles wins during Pac-12 victories over Oregon and Washington.
USC's first loss of the 2013 season came to top-ranked and top-seeded Virginia in the championship match at the ITA National Team Indoor Championships in Seattle last week. The tight 4-2 loss to the Cavaliers snapped a 20-match winning streak held by the Trojans dating back through USC's run to the 2012 NCAA Championship, where the Trojans beat Virginia 4-2 in last year's national championship match. USC was looking to defend its 2012 ITA National Indoor Championship, but the highly ranked Cavaliers stole away this year's title thanks to some strong wins at the top of the lineup. In the semifinals of the tourney, USC captured a dramatic win over crosstown rival UCLA, edging out the No. 3 Bruins with a 4-3 comeback victory capped by a heroic third-set tiebreaker win from sophomore Roberto Quiroz. The Bruins had the Trojans in a tough spot in a match replete with momentum shifts, but USC's gutsy comeback efforts pulled the Trojans through in the clutch. In order to get to that semi, the Trojans first rolled through No. 15 Texas A&M with a 4-0 sweep and then took down No. 7 Kentucky 4-1 in the quarterfinals. Yannick Hanfmann would finish the tourney undefeated in singles play, going 3-0 to extend the sophomore's singles win streak out to eight in a row. He also had the clincher against the Aggies to help spark his stretch of straight-set wins. He was named Pac-12 Player of the Week for his strength in Seattle. Earning All-Tournament Team honors was Yannick Hanfmann for No. 4 singles and Eric Johnson for No. 6 singles.
STRENGTH AT SHERWOOD
The winner of last year's Sherwood Collegiate Cup doubles championship, Ray Sarmiento added a singles title to his resume thanks to a series of wins over UCLA opponents in this 2013 edition of the individual tourney in Thousand Oaks, Calif, last weekend. Sarmiento raged through straight sets throughout his singles draw until the final, where the junior lost the first before making his comeback win to beat UCLA's Adrien Puget in the title match. USC also had a spot in the doubles final, but Trojans Emilio Gomez and Eric Johnson were upended in the final by third-seeded Bruin pair Giron/Novikov. The Trojans had eight players on the docket in singles and four doubles teams in the mix for USC's first competition of 2013. Four Trojan sophomores -- Sarmiento, Roberto Quiroz, Yannick Hanfmann and Johnson -- reached the singles quarterfinals, but only Sarmiento emerged from that group as he set his course toward the championship. So, too did the Trojan pack four teams into the doubles quarterfinal round, with all but one notching wins to move into the semifinals. That set up an all-Trojan semi between Gomez /Johnson and Hanfmann/Sarmiento to guarantee a USC team in the final. Gomez/Johnson would advance to the title match to take on No. 3 seeded Bruins Giron/Novikov, who had edged out Trojans de Vroome/Quiroz in their semifinal collision. Gomez/Johnson took the Bruins down to the wire, but fell 8-7 (4) in the doubles final.
A GOOD DAY ON CLAY
USC sophomore Roberto Quiroz showed his singles strength in the fall in cruising to the crown at the USTA Clay Court Invitational in Orlando, Fla., topping off his trip with a 6-1, 6-3 championship win over his opponent from Duke. He also reached the doubles semifinals with teammate Yannick Hanfmann. The Florida tournament consisted of several draws of singles and doubles competition. The Trojans had a strong group in the Gold Draw, led by eventual champ Quiroz. Sophomore Hanfmann worked his way to the semifinals in the draw, falling to Quiroz' title match opponent Michael Redlicki. Freshman Max de Vroome and sophomore Jonny Wang fell in the first round. Quiroz and Hanfmann both opened their runs with straight-set victories. Quiroz would keep that streak alive as he rolled to the title, which Hanfmann was upended in the semis.
Trojan tennis reigned supreme at the Battle in the Bay Classic in San Francisco during the fall with a sweep of singles and doubles titles. The big winner in the Bay Area was USC sophomore Eric Johnson, who stormed to the singles crown with a dramatic three-set win over his freshman teammate Max de Vroome. Johnson also hoisted the doubles trophy with teammate Yannick Hanfmann after a successful run through the doubles draw. Fourth-seeded Eric Johnson posted straight-set wins in his first three matches en route to the semifinals. There he dispatched a San Diego foe to take a spot in the singles final against teammate de Vroome. The two Trojans tangled through three sets before Johnson grabbed the third-set tiebreaker for a 3-6, 6-4, 7-6 win that earned the sophomore the singles crown. De Vroome took the spot in the title match with another all-Trojan face-off in the semifinal, where the freshman faced sophomore Jonny Wang, who had also made a strong run through the singles draw. In doubles, Wang and de Vroome had paired up but taken an early tight loss in the first round. Their Trojan cohorts Johnson and Yannick Hanfmann, meanwhile, pinned up two powerful wins to move into the semifinals. There, sophomores Hanfmann and Johnson gutted out a 9-8 (1) win over a pair from Pacific to earn a place in the final. Hanfmann/Johnson went up against a duo from Stanford in the championship bout, taking out the Cardinal with an 8-4 decision to claim the title and spark an all-out winning day for sophomore Johnson.
In 2012, USC seniors Steve Johnson and Daniel Nguyen helped anchor the Trojans to a historic run of four consecutive NCAA championships. Johnson finished his Trojan career as arguably the most successful collegiate player in history, having claimed back-to-back NCAA Singles Championships and closing out 2012 on a 72-match singles winning streak. Led by head coach Peter Smith, the 2012 Trojans lost just one match during the regular season, rebounding strong to win the first Pac-12 Tournament Championship and rolling on to successfully defend its previous three NCAA titles, taking its fourth in a row to finish 33-1 overall on the year. Top-seeded USC won a heart-stopping championship match against No. 3 seed Virginia, with the clincher in the 4-3 win coming from freshman Yannick Hanfmann in a third-set tiebreaker. With the 2012 title, USC became the first team since Stanford's 1995-98 teams to win four consecutive national championships. At the end of the year, Johnson had earned his seventh career ITA All-American nods, joined by freshman Roberto Quiroz and sophomore Ray Sarmiento with All-American status in 2012. •