One of the many corny sports idioms of the world is short, sweet and rhymed: “Teamwork makes the dream work.”
Cliched, to be sure, but the saying rings true in the athletic realm. In an individual sport, such as tennis, however, these words may not be as applicable as they are in a team-oriented sport.
For USC’s men’s tennis team, though, different players seem to step up and make big plays each match. This weekend was no different. The No. 2 Trojans competed at the Pacific Coast Doubles championships in La Jolla, Calif., and this time it was the tandem of freshman Max de Vroome and sophomore Eric Johnson who led the way by placing second overall in a tournament with over 100 doubles teams competing.
The exhibition tournament was the first time de Vroome and Johnson have paired up this season. After losing the doubles point in the past three matches, USC head coach Peter Smith recognized the need for a change in the lineup, so he switched up the partnerships at the No. 2 and No. 3 doubles spots. De Vroome’s regular partner, sophomore Roberto Quiroz, paired up with his cousin, junior Emilio Gomez, who usually plays with Johnson.
“Partnerships grow stale,” Smith said. “We want to see motivated guys. When they’re energized and their feet are moving, everything’s better.”
De Vroome and Johnson endured two close matches in the opening rounds of the tournament but found their rhythm and defeated teams from Cal, Rice and Claremont-Mudd-Scripps College to reach the semifinals, in which they faced Stanford’s Maciek Romanowicz and Robert Stineman, who usually play at the No. 3 spot for the Cardinal. De Vroome and Johnson rattled off an impressive 6-0, 6-3 win to put themselves in the finals.
The Trojans faced UCLA’s No. 1 doubles pair of Marcos Giron and Dennis Novikov in the finals. Until the finals, Giron and Novikov had dominated, not dropping a set throughout the whole tournament. De Vroome and Johnson became the first team to take a set over the Bruin pair but could not maintain momentum and ultimately fell in the championship match, 7-6 (5), 3-6, 4-6.
The other new doubles team, composed of Quiroz and Gomez, defeated teams from Rice and Toledo before falling to USC assistant coach Kris Kwinta and his former doubles partner from UCLA. On a light-hearted note, Smith nicknamed the new tandem of Quiroz and Gomez “The Ecuadorians,” as both hail from Guayaquil, Ecuador.
Junior Ray Sarmiento, who typically plays at the No. 1 doubles spot for USC with sophomore Yannick Hanfmann, played with volunteer assistant coach Peter Lucassen in the tournament. Hanfmann’s knee has been bothering him since the UCLA match on Feb. 22, and he did not travel with the team to San Diego. Sarmiento and Lucassen played well in their first two matches before falling to Stanford’s Romanowicz and Stineman. Sophomore Jonny Wang and junior Michael Grant also played two matches before being defeated by Adam Levie and Toki Sherbakov from UC Davis.
This tournament also allowed some of the less experienced Trojans to get some time on the court. Senior Michael Tang and sophomore Nick Hoyle partnered up but lost in the first round. Additionally, junior Corey Smith played with his younger brother, Keegan, but the duo lost in the first match.
The teams that were eliminated early spent the rest of the weekend enjoying the San Diego sunshine. The temperature hovered around 70 degrees each day and the waves crashed on the shore just a few steps away from the tennis courts. The players swam and kayaked in their spare time when they weren’t cheering their teammates on.
Smith is confident that the trip to San Diego strengthened the team dynamic and that the Trojans will be stronger in doubles going forward.
“This is the classic kind of half-way-through-the-season break where we do something a little different,” Smith said. “It’s a very relaxed atmosphere and arguably the most beautiful spot in the world. They definitely should come back to campus more relaxed.”
USC’s next match is scheduled for March 8 against Pepperdine at Marks Stadium.