Trojans looks to continue strong start in conference
Fueled by the leadership of veteran captains junior Steve Johnson, senior Jaak Poldma and a bevy of maturing young talent, the USC men‚Äôs tennis team looks to continue its strong play in Pac-10 competition, following recent drubbings of Stanford and California, by hosting Oregon and Washington on Friday and Saturday at Mark‚Äôs Stadium.
A week after its Bay Area roadtrip, No. 2 USC (16-2, 2-0) finds itself a spot higher in the national rankings.
‚ÄúThe season‚Äôs getting better,‚ÄĚ Johnson said. ‚ÄúGuys are getting healthier and healthier. Ray [Sarmiento‚Äôs] been back in the lineup consistently and is playing very well for us. The team‚Äôs getting closer, stronger and coming together.‚ÄĚ
Sarmiento was named Pac-10 Player of the Week, after Poldma received the honor last week for the second time this season.
Johnson, still ranked No. 1 nationally, credits his younger teammates and the steady play of his co-captain for the team‚Äôs success.
‚ÄúBoth [Stanford and Cal] are very good programs, and we were fortunate enough to just go out there and play very well in singles, with the freshman especially and Jaak,‚ÄĚ Johnson said.
But the wins haven‚Äôt come from the new blood alone. Johnson and Poldma, who have played at No. 2 and No. 3 this season, are both undefeated in their singles matches.
USC coach Peter Smith couldn‚Äôt be more proud of Poldma, who is set to graduate in May.
‚ÄúJaak‚Äôs always been an incredible example off the court, but he wants to make a statement graduating,‚ÄĚ Smith said. ‚ÄúHe‚Äôs a great, incredible leader, and he‚Äôs just doing it on the court in singles and doubles.‚ÄĚ
Strong leadership, it seems, might be the key to the Trojans‚Äô success.
‚ÄúTo have your number one and two players undefeated? I haven‚Äôt been able to say that ever,‚ÄĚ Smith said. ‚ÄúThe last two weeks have been the proudest for me in the last years.‚ÄĚ
Smith attributes the success to the diligence and hard work of the entire team, from top to bottom, and as the Trojans prepare to battle the Ducks and the Huskies, they only have one goal in sight.
‚ÄúThey‚Äôre both good teams, and we never want to look past anyone,‚ÄĚ Johnson said. ‚ÄúWe want to compete hard both days and come out of the weekend 4-0 in Pac-10 play.‚ÄĚ
Oregon does not have any ranked players on its roster, and in last season‚Äôs matchup, the Trojans walked away with a 7-0 victory over the Ducks.
USC edged out Washington 4-3 last spring.
Staying focused, Smith says, is key to prospects of continued success and will be the real test of the weekend.
‚ÄúWe‚Äôve got to stay humble and we have to stay hungry,‚ÄĚ he said.