Steve Johnson looks to cement fourth straight NCAA title
Even though we are just a few weeks into the new year, it‚Äôs hard not to be intrigued by what lies ahead for the USC athletic program over the course of the next 300-plus days.
2012 unequivocally has the potential to be the greatest chapter in the tradition-steeped annals of USC athletics.
There‚Äôs the men‚Äôs tennis team seeking a four-peat, the men‚Äôs volleyball team looking to exact some revenge at this year‚Äôs Final Four, the women‚Äôs basketball team seeking its first NCAA tournament appearance since losing to Duke in March 2006, the women‚Äôs water polo team trying to claim its second national championship in three years and the men‚Äôs water polo team attempting a five-peat. And who could forget a football team with unfinished business to attend to next fall?
With teams like these, champions are not hard to come by. And because of that, sometimes a few get overlooked.
Last May, while most students were jet-setting to their favorite destination or eagerly awaiting their first day at a new internship, Steve Johnson of the USC men‚Äôs tennis team was making history up in Palo Alto, Calif.
Though he was not in front of a packed house like the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, Johnson‚Äôs accomplishment of winning a singles and team NCAA title in the same year is definitely not a small feat.
In fact, since the NCAA championships went to a dual-match format, he‚Äôs the only Trojan to ever take home both crowns.
In a sports world that typically lavishes high-profile athletes in big revenue sports, it‚Äôs no wonder Johnson‚Äôs return to USC for his senior season never made its way on to SportsCenter ‚ÄĒ or any local sports telecast, for that matter.
In fact, when Johnson came back to USC to train just days after his victorious trip to the NCAA championships, there were no cameras, or news reporters following his every move.
It‚Äôs fitting for the five-time All-American that his return to USC didn‚Äôt warrant any ‚Äúone more year‚ÄĚ chants, because for those who have watched the Orange County native on the court, he isn‚Äôt the type of player that thrives on that type of attention. He‚Äôs the kind of guy who would rather be just another teammate instead of the face of the program. He‚Äôs the kind of guy who does his talking with a powerful serve or his trademark forehand, not with nationally televised interviews.
It‚Äôs no shock Johnson‚Äôs return didn‚Äôt send shock waves through the sports world. After all, big-time networks like ESPN, ABC and NBC have no horse in the race that is collegiate tennis.
But what‚Äôs the excuse for us as fellow peers not to follow Johnson‚Äôs final act?
For most tennis stars, the lure of the pro circuit makes college an obsolete career stepping stone. To be able to have the best player on the best team in the country right in our backyard is a rare treat to say the least.
Soon, Johnson will take his talents full-time to the pro tour. And though the 2011 NCAA men‚Äôs singles champion hasn‚Äôt made a huge splash just yet in WTA or USTA sponsored events (he lost in the first round of the 2011 US Open and 2011 Australian Open Wild-Card Playoffs), he is a big piece when it comes to the future American tennis puzzle.
Since Andre Agassi and Pete Sampras departed from the game in the early 2000s, the talent pool in the United States has thinned out on the men‚Äôs side. And with each passing phase, whether it be Andy Roddick, James Blake or Mardy Fish, fans are momentarily excited that on an international level, the United States has become first-rate in men‚Äôs tennis.
There‚Äôs no telling how far Johnson‚Äôs career will go, and he will be the first to tell you that his only goal at the moment is to improve to a level where he can consistently win at the professional ranks.
But, whether or not you care about the state of American tennis, don‚Äôt neglect an opportunity to watch Johnson play at Marks Tennis Stadium this spring simply because you might not know a double fault from an ace. After all, he‚Äôs a champion. He‚Äôs our champion.
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