Trojans gear up to defend last year’s title

After claiming a share of the Pac-10 regular season title and winning the Pac-10 tournament crown, the No. 5 USC men’s tennis team has one more goal to accomplish — repeat as NCAA champions.

Defenders · Freshman J.T. Sundling, who won the Pac-10 Invitational Singles Tournament last week, will try to help the Trojans win a second straight NCAA championship. - Gary Fung | Daily Trojan

All season, the Trojans have been geared to prepare for the NCAA Championships, which begin May 14th. The Trojans (19-3, 5-1) will be hosting the first two rounds, and the rest of the tournament will be played in Athens, Ga.

The USC’s men’s tennis team is hoping to capture its 18th national title in program history.

Following a lengthy season, being physically fit is often the element that separates the winners and the losers.

“It’s easy to get motivated for such a big tournament,” said junior Jaak Poldma. “The physical part is most important. The key to winning is being healthy and being ready to play. Last year we did so great, we didn’t have injuries, and we were ready for each match.”

In an effort to better understand the environment surrounding the championships, the Trojans scheduled a trip to Georgia during spring break, which is even more crucial as USC could potentially face Georgia in the round of 16.

“That’s why we went there, to gain familiarity,” said USC coach Peter Smith of the 4-2 victory over the Bulldogs which broke Georgia’s 71-home match win streak. “To know how the courts play and have that recall during the NCAAs.”

With all of the time off between the Pac-10 championships and the start of the NCAA tournament, the team has to focus on honing the necessary skills for success.

“It’s training camp,” Smith said. “[The players] are preparing for finals in the classroom, and they have to prepare for finals on the court.  It’s time to sharpen the tools, coach them well and improve on the things we need to improve on: conditioning, fitness and doubles.”

The players understand that proper preparation depends on using all of the time that they have wisely.

“A lot is up to us in how we use our time,” Poldma said. “With the mental part, we have a little break, and we can come back more motivated and use the time off to get healthy.”

With the experience from last season, Smith felt that the three keys to capturing the title last season were “character, leadership and doubles.”

The doubles point has been a key factor throughout the season.

Whenever USC won the doubles point, they went on to win the match, but whenever they lost the initial point, the Trojans ended up falling short.

Last season proved to be a breakthrough as Smith won his first national championship as coach of the Trojans.

The experience of winning the title has the Trojans determined to defend their title.

“This year, we are a little more prepared,” said sophomore Steve Johnson. “We now know what it takes to win again. We’re going to do what we need to do as a team to prepare.”