The USC men’s tennis team has locked in another strong position for the coming 2013 NCAA Team Championships, again hosting the first and second rounds at Marks Stadium from May 10-11
in an effort to make a run toward a fifth straight national championship. A winning effort this weekend would punch a return trip to the NCAA Round of 16 and beyond for the Trojans, with action to be held in Illinois later this month. The USC men (23-4) are defending a string of four straight national championships as they enter the 2013 tourney as the No. 4 seed in their 35th overall NCAA appearance. The plan of attack for action at Marks Stadium is to have the men’s competition run May 10 and 11. The USC men will welcome back two of head coach Peter Smith’s former assistants, as Brett Masi’s San Diego team and George Husack’s Alabama squad will square off on day one of action at 11 a.m. before USC tangles with Sacramento State at 2 p.m. On Saturday (May 11), the winning teams will square off in the NCAA Second Round match at 3 p.m. to play for that ticket to Illinois.
Last season, the Trojans became just the second team in NCAA history to win four consecutive national championships under the current NCAA team tournament format. Stanford won a string of titles in 1995-98. This year’s NCAA appearance is USC’s seventh straight trip to the postseason and 35th overall. USC leads the nation with 20 national championships all-time, and holds an 86-29 overall record in the NCAA Tournament. This year’s No. 4 seed into the draw follows last season’s No. 1 seed, having been tabbed at No. 8 in 2009, No. 5 in 2010 and No. 2 in 2011 during USC’s run to four consecutive NCAA titles.
TROJANS TO DATE
For the first time since 2007, the USC men will go in pursuit of an NCAA crown without the services of Steve Johnson and Daniel Nguyen. This year, the Trojans have no seniors on their NCAA roster. But USC is still fully loaded with talent. Entering the postseason, a whopping six Trojans are ranked in the nation’s top-100: #7 Emilio Gomez, #16 Ray Sarmiento, #36 Roberto Quiroz, #45 Yannick Hanfmann, #90 Eric Johnson and #98 Jonny Wang. All juniors, sophomores and freshmen, the Trojans are younger than their previous championship crews, but still wildly experienced. There’s still plenty of championship blood remaining, with several members of USC’s fourth straight NCAA title winning team still in the mix, led by the highly ranked Gomez, ITA All-Americans Sarmiento and Quiroz, and the 2012 championship clincher Hanfmann. At 23-4 overall, USC has secured its seventh straight 20-win season.
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. 4 in the latest ITA national team poll (released May 2). The Trojans still boast more than a full lineup of Trojans in the ITA singles and doubles lists (released May 2), led by junior Emilio Gomez at No. 7 and junior All-American Ray Sarmiento at No. 16. Sophomore All-American Roberto Quiroz is next in line at No. 36, followed by sophomore Yannick Hanfmann — the clincher of the 2012 NCAA Championship — at No. 45 and sophomore Eric Johnson at No. 90. Sophomore Jonny Wang clocks in at No. 98, just ahead of junior Michael Grant at No. 101. In doubles, the Trojans have lumped a variety pack of four different pairings into the nation’s top-100 duos. No. 37 Hanfmann/Sarmiento lead the way, followed by No. 47 Gomez/Quiroz, No. 73 Hanfmann/Johnson, and No. 81 Gomez/Johnson.
SCOUTING SACRAMENTO STATE
Sacramento State (17-12) is making its fifth straight and 10th overall appearance in the NCAA Tournament, having secured an automatic berth as the winner of the Big Sky Conference Tournament. The Hornets are coached by Slava Konikov, who is in his eighth season as head coach at Sacramento State. Sacramento State has #117 Marek Marksoo nationally ranked in singles and no ranked doubles teams. USC is 3-0 all-time against Sacramento State, last facing in the 2011 NCAA First Round, where the Trojans beat the Hornets 4-0 at Marks Stadium.
SCOUTING SAN DIEGO
San Diego (17-9) is ranked No. 44 in the nation on the way into its third straight and 10th overall NCAA appearance, having earned an at-large berth into the tournament. The Toreros are coached by former USC assistant coach Brett Masi, who is now in his fourth season as head coach at San Diego. USD has #75 Clarke Spinosa nationally ranked in singles and no ranked doubles teams. USC is 34-3 all-time against San Diego, last facing earlier this season in San Diego, where the Trojans beat the Toreros 6-1.
Alabama (14-13) is ranked No. 29 in the nation on the way into its first NCAA appearance since 2010 and 17th appearance overall. The Crimson Tide earned an at-large berth into this year’s tournament. Alabama is coached by former USC associate head coach George Husack, who is in his first season as head coach of the Crimson Tide. Alabama has #49 Jarryd Botha nationally ranked in singles. In doubles, the Crimson Tide have #7 Botha/Vieyra and #27 O’Shaughnessey/Proskura. USC is 1-1 all-time against Alabama, last facing in 1989 when Alabama posted a 5-2 win over USC. The Trojans beat the Crimson Tide 8-1 in the 1977 NCAA Championship.
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 grand total of seven players in the national singles rankings and four ranked doubles teams.
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. Entering the 2013 NCAA tourney, Smith now boasts a 505-201 career record as a head coach. Almost half those wins have come in his time at Troy, where he is now 235-66 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.
As USC has rolled up its seventh straight 20-win seasons, many Trojans have also pinned up big numbers on the singles scene this season. The big winner to date has been Roberto Quiroz, who boasts 34 overall wins entering the 2013 NCAA tourney. The most successful in the dual-match realm has been Yannick Hanfmann, with a near-perfect 19-1 dual-match singles mark to date, beating out Quiroz’ total of 18. The rest of the Trojan lineup has been racking up victories, too. Eric Johnson had joined Quiroz in the 30-win club, holding 32 wins overall. Meanwhile, USC’s 20-win heavy hitters include Jonny Wang (29), Yannick Hanfmann (27), Ray Sarmiento (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.
In addition to pursuing a fifth straight NCAA Team Championship with the USC men’s tennis team, four Trojans will also fight for an NCAA Singles crown this month in Illinois. Picking up the No. 7 seed into the 2013 NCAA Men’s Singles draw is junior Emilio Gomez, joined by fellow junior Ray Sarmiento as a 9-16 seed. Two USC sophomores -- Yannick Hanfmann and Roberto Quiroz -- also scored at-large berths into the NCAA singles action, which will run May 22-27 in Urbana, Ill. Ray Sarmiento will be making his third consecutive appearance in the NCAA Singles scene, having earned All-American honors as a freshman with a run to the Round of 16. He reached the Round of 32 last season. This year, Sarmiento has been ranked as high as No. 9 in the nation, and he’s secured a spot as a 9-16 seed for this 2013 NCAA Singles competition. With a 25-6 overall singles record to date, he’s ranked No. 16 in the nation in the latest ITA rankings cycle. Emilio Gomez, too, has hit his highest career singles ranking this season, having sat as high as No. 2 during the year. He takes the No. 7 seed into the 2013 NCAA Singles draw as the Pac-12’s automatic qualifier. Currently holding a 22-6 overall singles record, Gomez is ranked No. 7 in the nation. This will be Gomez’ second trip into NCAA Singles action, having reached the Round of 16 last year. His high seed into the 2013 tourney secures Gomez as an ITA All-American for the first time in his Trojan career. A return trip to NCAA Singles play also is in order for USC sophomore Yannick Hanfmann, who scored a spot in the 2012 tourney as a freshman. USC’s winningest player in dual-match action (19-1), Hanfmann holds a 27-6 overall singles mark and is ranked No. 45 in the latest ITA singles rankings. Making his first appearance in the NCAA Singles draw after picking up ITA All-American honors on the doubles side last year is sophomore Roberto Quiroz. He, too, has taken up his highest career singles ranking this season, having held the No. 23 spot during the year. He’s now No. 36 in the nation in singles and boast the most singles wins of all his Trojan teammates to date with a 34-9 overall record.
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. •