THIS WEEK - The USC men's tennis team has checked in for its seventh consecutive trip to the NCAA Championships, taking the trip to Illinois this week for the NCAA Round of 16 and beyond. The No. 4 seeded Trojans (25-4) have won the past four national championships and are already in the books with their fifth straight 25-win season. Now, the defenders of a four-peat are lined up for their 2013 NCAA Round of 16 clash with Baylor (22-5), set for 4 p.m. CT on Thursday (May 16) at University of Illinois' Khan Outdoor Tennis Complex in Urbana, Ill. A win there would lift the Trojans into the Semifinals for a seventh consecutive season. The NCAA Quarterfinal showdown would be at 4 p.m. CT on Saturday (May 18). The NCAA Semifinals will be at 1 p.m. CT on Monday (May 20). That matchup could well be a rivalry battle with top-seeded UCLA. The 2013 NCAA title match is set for 1 p.m. CT on Tuesday (May 21).
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 88-29 overall record in the NCAA Tournament after its opening wins in the 2013 NCAA First and Second Rounds last week. 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. Now at 25-4 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.
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 Round of 16, Smith now boasts a 507-201 career record as a head coach. Almost half those wins have come in his time at Troy, where he is now 237-66 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 fifth straight 25-win season, many Trojans have also pinned up big numbers on the singles scene. The big winner to date has been Roberto Quiroz, who boasts 36 overall wins entering the 2013 NCAA Round of 16. In the dual-match realm, Quiroz also is on top with 20 wins, followed by Eric Johnson and Yannick Hanfmann with 19 each. Hanfmann has been near-perfect in dual-match play at 19-1 to date. Overall, Quiroz has two fellow sophomores in the 30-win club with him, as Johnson has won 33 and Jonny Wang just hit 30. Meanwhile, USC's 20-win heavy hitters include Hanfmann (27), Max de Vroome (26), Ray Sarmiento (25) 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. •