Tennis stars make their mark at USC
The USC menâs and womenâs tennis teams have found similar success over the last few years â success due in large part to two players.
Between March 14 and April 11, both were atop the collegiate tennis hierarchy, making NCAA history as the first male and female ranked No. 1 from the same school.
âI feel really fortunate and honored to be a part of this,â Sanchez said. âI know Steveâs a great player and works really hard too, so itâs great that we can both be number one together.â
Sanchez is now ranked No. 2, while Johnson has stayed at the No. 1 spot.
Individually, they are two of the most accomplished athletes at USC.
In his freshman and sophomore seasons, Johnson and the team won back-to-back national championships, bringing the crown home to the Trojans for the first time since 2002. This year, with a 21-2 overall record and Pac-10 championship, the team is poised for a three-peat.
Johnson, who co-captains the Trojans with senior Jaak Poldma, is undefeated this season. The journey to the top has been tough, but Johnson has proved time and again he is up to the challenge.
âComing into college was a big wake up call,â Johnson said. âI realized that talent and what you did in the past doesnât mean much. I learned to have a work ethic.â
And he learned quickly. USC menâs coach Peter Smith praised Johnsonâs dedication and determination, and said he is always eager to improve his game.
âYou donât win national championships without special people, and heâs as special as they come,â Smith said.
Sanchez, in her final season with the Women of Troy, captains her team. She, too, has worked hard to get to the top. Sanchez played at No. 5 her freshman season and would work her way up the ladder to finally land the No. 1 spot her junior season.
âWhen I first found out I was No. 1, it was definitely a relief,â Sanchez said. âThis is where I feel like I should be right now. But itâs really just a ranking. Iâm trying to focus on the process and getting better.â
USC womenâs coach Richard Gallien was quick to emphasize Sanchezâ progress, crediting her passion as what separates her from the rest.
âShe has a ferocious desire,â Gallien said. âNot everyone has got the courage to put themselves on the line every day.â
Aside from their many accomplishments, what is perhaps most impressive about Johnsonâs and Sanchezâs respective games is their humility. Their modesty, leadership and undeniable skill, has earned them both an unquestionable respect among teammates.
âWhen we were playing well together, I felt that we were unstoppable,â said freshman Ray Sarmiento, who started the season playing at No. 1 doubles with Johnson. âHe is kind of a mentor to me and Iâm learning from him.â
Junior Alison Ramos, who has played alongside Sanchez for nearly three seasons, was just as impressed.
âThereâs passion when she plays,â Ramos said. âShe is a fighter. She really pushes the importance of family and team, and she really wants us to come together.â
Through it all, Sanchez and Johnson have stayed grounded, competing with a love for the game and remembering the sport relies just as much on teamwork.
âIndividual success is not much unless you have a group of people to share it with,â Johnson said. âTwo of the greatest moments of my life were winning the national titles and being able to just go hug a bunch of my friends.â
Johnson and Sanchez have accomplished much while donning the cardinal and gold, both individually and with their teammates, but thereâs still more theyâd like to do.
âIâm hoping to get a couple more national titles,â Johnson said. âThatâs been the goal from day one.â
Sanchez expressed similar sentiments.
âTo win a team national championship, thatâd be most important to me,â Sanchez said.