The Trojans face two highly ranked teams from the north this weekend when they play host to Cal and Stanford, respectively. The action gets underway Friday at 1:30 p.m. when the No. 2-ranked Trojans face the No. 13 Bears at Marks Stadium, with the second game against the No. 18-ranked Cardinal on Saturday.
Cal is 3-0 this season in Intercollegiate Tennis Association play and is led by senior Christoffer Konigsfeldt, ranked No. 42 in singles. Konigsfeldt missed Cal’s previous 5-2 victory over Pacific last weekend as he represented his native Denmark in the Davis Cup. Freshman Mads Engsted, ranked No. 93 in singles, might see a familiar foe in Trojan sophomore Roberto Quiroz. Engsted and Quiroz met in the Sherwood Collegiate Cup earlier this year, and the match went the full three sets — including a tiebreak — with Quiroz emerging victorious, 5-7, 6-2, 7-6(4).
The team is aware that a keener focus is necessary when facing conference opponents such as Cal and Stanford. USC head coach Peter Smith emphasized the importance of strong preparation in facing Pac-12 teams.
“It’s time to get it going,” Smith said. “We had three matches over the weekend, and the goal was to get seven matches in before we play a top-20 team.”
Despite having played a multitude of matches including two doubleheaders, the Trojans haven’t faced much adversity on the road to Pac-12 play. In four of their seven matches, the Trojans didn’t drop a single match. When asked how he felt about the team’s preparation in spite of the seeming lack of a visible challenge, Smith insisted that he felt the team was “very prepared.”
“We’re right there; we’re right where we want to be,” Smith said.
In contrast to the Trojans, the Cardinal have faced plenty of adversity to open the season, dropping matches to No. 26 Texas A&M and TCU at home. The Stanford men’s tennis team is 3-2 on the season and the schedule only gets progressively tougher for them entering the National Team Indoor Intercollegiate championships, with a match against No. 3 UCLA on Friday before facing No. 2 USC on Saturday.
The Cardinal are led by sophomore John Morrissey, ranked No. 39 in the nation. It was Trojan sophomore Eric Johnson who knocked out Morrissey at the Sherwood Collegiate Cup with a 6-3, 6-3 victory in the second round. The results earlier this year might give the Trojans confidence in their game plan, but the team remains on guard.
“Cal and Stanford are obviously two very good teams,” sophomore Jonny Wang said. “You can never take anything for granted. The Pac-12 is one of, if not the strongest conference in the nation. Having so many ranked teams means any match between these teams are going to be tightly contested.”
Junior Ray Sarmiento will return to the lineup after playing only one leg of the two matches last Sunday. Sarmiento felt that the team didn’t need to do anything differently to prepare for its opponents.
“We’re just going to keep working hard and get our bodies ready,” Sarmiento said.
Sarmiento has played out of his usual No. 1 position at times this season with junior Emilio Gomez filling in aptly in his stead. When asked if he would retake his No. 1 position with the beginning of Pac-12 play, Sarmiento was gracious in his response.
“It doesn’t matter, I mean, we’re all playing well,” Sarmiento said, citing Gomez’s success in particular.
Gomez picked up Pac-12 player of the week honors for his play at the No. 1 spot last week. This week, the honor went to another Trojan, freshman Max de Vroome.
De Vroome secured five straight doubles wins with partner Quiroz and five straight set match victories last week, including the thrilling clincher against No. 16 Texas, which saw de Vroome fight back from behind in both sets to win the match in tiebreaks.