The USC men’s tennis team is looking to defend the Intercollegiate Tennis Association men’s team indoor championship this weekend at the Seattle Tennis Club and the University of Washington.
The No. 2 Trojans are coming off a vanquishing of two top-20-ranked Bay Area schools in No. 13 Cal and No. 19
Stanford last weekend. Junior Emilio Gomez has led the charge for the Trojans in the early going and his contributions have drawn the attention of collegiate tennis’ governing body. In the ITA’s most recent individual rankings, Gomez jumped from No. 24 to No. 10. Junior Ray Sarmiento, who has been battling an abdominal injury most of this season, held steady in the rankings at No. 12.
USC head coach Peter Smith is confident about his team’s preparation going into the weekend and relishes the challenge of facing the team’s fiercest opposition to date.
“We’re getting better, that’s all we need to do,” Smith said. “[The ITA Indoor Championship] is great for us. We get to see how we match up against the best teams in the country.”
When asked whether it was necessary to run the table at the tournament to make a statement to the rest of the nation, team captain Sarmiento demurred and echoed the sentiments of his coach.
“It’s more important [that] we keep doing the right things on and off the court,” Sarmiento said. “The results will follow.”
He also added that while it would be “nice” to win the tournament, the team’s goal is to peak in May, when the Trojans will try to defend a decidedly more important title: the NCAA Division I Championship.
That isn’t to suggest the Trojans will be taking the competition this weekend lightly: No. 1 Virginia and No. 3 UCLA will be at the tournament in full force in an attempt to gain a psychological foothold on the defending champion Trojans. Leading the charge for the Bruins will be sophomore Marcos Giron, ranked No. 13 in the nation, and junior Adrien Puget, whose play at the Sherwood Collegiate Cup earlier this year landed him a spot in the finals with Sarmiento. Sarmiento ultimately emerged victorious in that matchup, but not before Puget defeated a handful of highly touted Pac-12 players.
For the Trojans, the tournament also offers something they haven’t had the opportunity to do all season: travel. With the exception of the Sherwood Collegiate Cup in Thousand Oaks and a match that was relocated to Riverside because of rain, the Trojans have played all of their matches to open the season at Marks Stadium. For the Trojan tennis team, the players themselves are also their teammates’ best supporters, and traveling allows them to forge bonds with one another.
“[Traveling is] great — we do everything together,” Sarmiento said. “We’re a pretty close-knit team,”
Close-knit also means introducing a new thread that might take a little wrangling; this year, that new thread is freshman Max de Vroome, the only player who wasn’t on the team last year. As the odd man out, de Vroome was dressed up in full costume as DC Comics’ hero The Flash for the Trojans’ flight to Washington.
“He [de Vroome] got plenty of looks [and] pictures,” Sarmiento said. “He signed an autograph, too.”