Coming off a victory against Cal Poly Pomona and UC Irvine on Tuesday, the USC men’s tennis team will play host to No. 17 University of Texas on Friday at Marks Stadium. The Trojans have gotten off to a strong start, winning all four of their matches this season in convincing fashion without the assistance of star junior Ray Sarmiento, ranked No. 10 in the nation by the Intercollegiate Tennis Association in singles.
In the absence of Sarmiento, junior Emilio Gomez has handled No. 1 position duties confidently. Gomez earned Pac-12 player of the week honors for his play in the ITA Kick-Off Weekend and has yet to drop a set in singles play this season.
The Texas Longhorns’ men’s tennis team is coming off a tough loss to No. 9 Kentucky at ITA Kick-Off Weekend. In that matchup, Texas’ top ranked player sophomore Soren Hess-Olesen (No. 31) suffered an upset to Kentucky’s Anthony Rossi (No. 94). Look for the Longhorns to come out to Marks Stadium hungry and prepared to face the Trojans, whom have yet to face of a highly ranked opponents.
This isn’t to say the Trojans haven’t faced any difficulties: USC coach Peter Smith scheduled Tuesday’s doubleheader two days after the ITA Kick-Off final and three days before their matchup against Texas, giving his players little time to catch their breath.
“All I’m trying to do is to create a little adversity for these guys, just to toughen them up,” Smith said, adding that he also sought to “create [adversity] when we don’t have it.”
Even self-imposed challenges seemed ineffective in stopping the Trojans, who cruised to a 6-1 vanquishing of UC Irvine in the second leg of the doubleheader.
Smith emphasized the necessity of training and conditioning in preparing for Texas, whom he characterized as “definitely a level higher” than the Trojans’ previous opposition.
“I know what kind of great program [Texas men’s tennis coach Michael Center] runs, how well his players compete,” Smith said. “We have to step up.”
The Longhorns had won four straight matches, including finals at the Key Biscayne Invitational, before their loss to Kentucky. They come to Marks Stadium with three ITA-ranked players on their roster, including freshman standout Nick Naumann (No. 98), senior Daniel Whitehead (No. 43) and Hess-Olesen.
Friday will also see the ITA season debut of Sarmiento, who, after sitting out the first four ITA matches with an abdominal injury, will see his first action against Hess-Olesen and the visiting Longhorns. In other injury news, sophomore Yannick Hanfmann is questionable for Friday’s matchup after suffering a minor setback in his doubles matchup Tuesday. Hanfmann has been beleaguered by tendinitis in his knee and elbow since the Sherwood Collegiate Cup, and on Tuesday also suffered a Grade I ankle sprain. Despite these ailments, Smith is hopeful that Hanfmann will be available and ready to play Friday.
For all the talk of adversity in the locker room, the Trojans are sure to face a true challenge against Texas on Friday. Doubles play begins at 3 p.m. at Marks Stadium, with singles play beginning immediately thereafter.