Last year, USC men’s tennis entered the ITA National Team Indoor Championships undefeated and left with its only losses of the spring season.
On Friday, No. 1 USC will again enter the four-day competition in Charlottesville, Va. with a 7-0 record, but the Trojans hope to come out victorious with their first ITA Team Indoors title since 1988.
No. 1 ranked singles player Steve Johnson will lead the charge against first round opponent No. 20 Tennessee (4-3). The reigning NCAA singles champion, who holds a 44-match win streak in collegiate singles, will be accompanied by fellow senior Daniel Nguyen, who is ranked No. 16 in ITA rankings.
The underclassmen corps includes sophomores No. 12 Ray Sarmiento and No. 48 Emilio Gomez, as well as freshmen No. 33 Yannick Hanfmann and Roberto Quiroz.
While Hanfmann and Sarmiento both hold a 5-1 singles record this season, Gomez and Quiroz have yet to lose on their respective courts.
Other Trojans that could see the court this weekend are freshmen Eric Johnson and Jordi Vives.
In doubles action, the duo of Johnson and Hanfmann carry a four-game winning streak into the tournament. One of those wins was over California’s Nick Andrews and Christoffer Konigsfeldt, the No. 5 pair in the nation.
Nguyen and Sarmiento are 5-1 together in doubles, while Gomez and Quiroz recently dropped a five-game winning streak with a 2-8 loss to Pepperdine’s Hugh Clarke and David Sofaer.
Tennessee will face USC after two consecutive losses to No. 10 Duke and No. 18 Illinois.
USC, on the other hand, carries a 26-match winning streak into the tournament spanning from last season’s run to their third consecutive NCAA championship.
“Our momentum is important because we need it to get rolling in the Indoors,” Hanfmann said. “I think we have a good enough team to get far in this year’s tournament.”
Last year’s competition took place in Seattle, where Duke upset No. 2-seeded USC in the first round, 4-3. The Trojans then fell to Stanford 3-4 in consolation play, giving USC its only two losses of the 2011 season.
Since 2008, USC has not been able to advance past the quarterfinals, losing to the likes of Ohio State, Georgia and Texas.
“In the last few years, we’ve had issues or injuries going into the Indoors. I’m glad that this year, there’s nothing bothering us off the court so we can focus on the court,” Johnson said.
USC last played in the championship match in 1991 and has not hoisted the trophy since its 1987 and 1988 titles under coach Dick Leach.
If the Trojans advance to the finals, they will need to endure four matches in the span of four days.
“For the guys that have been there before, we know what it takes to play four tough matches in four days,” Johnson said. “It’s just a little different, but we’ll be ready, and we’re all in good shape.”
USC will kick off tournament play at 12:30 p.m. on Friday. Should they advance, they will face the winner of No. 8 UCLA vs. No. 10 Duke in the quarterfinals.