Trojans open season with focus on defending title

As the spring semester begins, the preseason Campbell/Intercollegiate Tennis Association No. 1 USC men’s tennis team gears up for the season and prepares to defend its 2009 NCAA national title.

Favorites · Top-ranked USC includes the No. 1 ranked player in sophomore Steve Johnson as they look to repeat as national champions in 2010. - Mike Lee | Daily Trojan

After a very successful fall campaign, which features individual as opposed to team play, the Trojans will have one more opportunity to show off their individual talents. This weekend, the team will participate in the Sherwood Collegiate Cup tournament in Westlake, Calif.

The tournament features fierce competition, as the three other participating schools — UCLA, Baylor and Stanford — are all ranked in the ITA Top 10.

Facing the best competition the Pac-10 has to offer and a superb Baylor squad, USC is well positioned as sophomore Steve Johnson and senior Robert Farah respectively hold the top two singles seeds, and the doubles team of Farah and freshmen J.T. Sundling hold the tournament’s No. 2 seed.

This tournament is not only an excellent opportunity for the seeded players to prove themselves against formidable competition but also an opportunity for less-experienced players to gain valuable playing time.

Eight players from each university will compete, as opposed to the typical six, allowing more team members to make their case for playing time before the team match season commences.

“It’s important to play an individual tournament in the spring, it’s a good barometer for the lineup,” coach Peter Smith said.

The opportunity for other players to prove themselves against elite competition will go a long way to determining the lineup for their first dual matches scheduled on Jan. 23. USC will face off against Loyola Marymount and UC Santa Barbara at Marks Tennis Stadium.

Smith mentioned that certain spots on the team have yet to be determined.

“Doubles are still somewhat of a mystery, and we want to see where the freshmen lie,” Smith said.

Along with finalizing certain positional battles, Smith said he would like to observe proper conditioning and a strong sense of competitiveness from his players.

Maintaining this focus is crucial as the preseason No. 1 ranking is an unfamiliar experience for the relatively young team.

“[The ranking presents] new territory, but we’re not going to get caught up in the rankings,” Smith said.

The top ranking results from the bevy of ranked singles players including No. 1 Johnson, No. 14 Farah and No. 47 sophomore Matt Kecki.

This talented bunch sets the team up nicely to strive for USC’s 18th men’s tennis national championship.

The team must guard against complacency as the season begins to wear on. Smith has high hopes for his squad if they stay on track.

“[USC] is the team to beat, if motivated,” Smith said.

The Trojans are in store for a significant challenge as they open up against some of the best competition in the nation at the Sherwood Collegiate Cup.