USC heads south to play nonconference stretch
Still trying to regroup from surprising back-to-back losses, USCâs No. 2 menâs tennis team will take a trip to sunny San Diego today to face off against the No. 36 University of San Diego Toreros before competing in the Pacific Coast Doubles championship at the La Jolla Beach and Tennis Club this weekend.
The Trojans (12-2) are looking to get back to their winning ways in Thursdayâs match against USD Â Â Â (6-2) after dropping straight matches to No. 1 Virginia and No. 3 UCLA. The Torerosâ roster includes two ranked singles players: junior Clarke Spinosa at No. 82 and freshman Uros Petronijevic at Â No. 112. The Trojans boast eight, the highest being junior Emilio Gomez, whose recent success has earned him the No. 4 ranking in the nation.
USC head coach Peter Smith is looking forward to facing USD head coach Brett Masi, who worked under Smith at USC from 2005-09. Masi was named ITA West Region assistant coach of the year in 2007 and 2008 and he helped coach the Trojans to the first of their four straight national championships in 2009. Given his accomplishments, the team plans to fight hard against USD, although the Trojans are 33-3 against the Toreros all-time.
âItâs going to be, of course, a tough match,â Gomez said. âWe have to be ready to play.â
After the match at USD, the Trojans will get a break of sorts in a doubles tournament exhibition. The tournament, which spans from Feb. 28 until March 3, will feature doubles teams from Stanford, Cal, Pepperdine and UCLA but will not count toward the teamsâ official win-loss record, so the Trojans are looking to have some fun and experiment with the doubles teams.
In the tournament, Smith will try out the tandem of freshman Max de Vroome and sophomore Eric Johnson. He also plans to pair up Gomez and his cousin, sophomore Roberto Quiroz. The cousins havenât played doubles together this season but played together last year and also have previously partnered up to represent Ecuador in the Davis Cup.
âWeâre going to live and die with Ecuador,â Smith said.
In addition, junior Ray Sarmiento will play with volunteer assistant coach Peter Lucassen in the doubles tournament because his usual partner, sophomore Yannick Hanfmann, is sitting out. Because itâs an open tournament, Sarmiento, who has yet to play in the Pacific Coast Doubles Championships in his collegiate career, is permitted to play with whomever he chooses.
âIâve always wanted to play in this tournament,â Sarmiento said. âSo Iâd rather play with Peter than not play at all.â
Although Sarmiento and Lucassen wonât be a permanent pair, Smith is happy to have the opportunity to try out the other new doubles teams. In their first nine matches, the Trojans opened up play by securing the doubles point. But the team conceded the doubles point in each of its last three matches â twice against UCLA and once against Virginia. In their first match against UCLA, the Trojans overcame their early deficit to secure the win. USC was not as fortunate in its next two matches, as the teamâs singles play could not make up for its deficiency in doubles costing the Trojans their first two losses of the season.
âWe need to do something different and we need to play with a lot more energy out there,â Smith said. âHopefully this will be a good test.â
Though Smith sees the tournament as part of the teamâs development, he also views the trip as a whole as an opportunity for the team to loosen up. Without the pressure of putting a win on the record, he and his players are looking forward to playing freely and to enjoying the warm weather and San Diego beaches.
âI think weâre going to be a little bit more relaxed,â Gomez said. âItâs kind of like our spring break.â