The No. 3 USC men’s tennis team has a chance to go undefeated in Pac-10 play for the first time since 1987 as it takes on No. 9 UCLA in its final match of the regular season.
Last season, the Trojans fell just short of a Pac-10 championship in a crushing 4-3 loss against the Bruins. But this year, USC could walk away with sole possession of the title, provided it can return home with a win in hand.
“We’ve won a lot of big matches and we’d love to win this but we have to look at this as just another match,” said USC coach Peter Smith.
The Trojans (20-2, 5-0) beat the Bruins in a full-house spectacle March 2, walking away with a convincing 5-2 victory at home in Marks Tennis Stadium.
“We’ve got to do the same thing that we’ve been doing,” said freshman Ray Sarmiento. “It’s just another match so we’ve got to prepare like it. Give it all we got, because it’s our last match of the season.”
Smith echoed this sentiment, insisting the team finish out the season strong despite already clinching a share of the conference crown.
Smith said he is not overly concerned with records or win-streaks, though that is not stopping him from approaching this match seriously.
“I don’t care to be undefeated in anything,” Smith said. “The only thing I care to be undefeated in is the NCAA tournament, because when you lose, you gain. You learn when you lose. You don’t want to lose but you also don’t want to shy away from it.”
Yet ending with a win over UCLA would certainly taste sweet.
“It’d mean a lot, especially winning on their court,” Sarmiento said. “It’s our rival across town.”
Smith hopes his young but experienced group does not get hung up on the rivalry.
“The key thing for us is don’t over-think it,” Smith said. “Go out and trust yourself and play tennis. These guys are on this team for a reason.”
But the Trojans have more to come, first with the Pac-10 tournament and their eyes on the prize — a third consecutive NCAA title.
“I’m thinking toward the end of May,” Sarmiento said. “That’s the big picture, that’s the main focus.”
First serve is at 3 p.m. at the Los Angeles Tennis Center.