Trojans head north to take on Stanford, Cal

USC’s No. 2 men’s tennis team will put its five-game winning streak on the line this weekend as the Trojans head north to face the No. 49 Stanford Cardinal and the No. 15 California Golden Bears to open up Pac-12 play.

The Trojans (17-2) have been firing on all cylinders since their last loss to UCLA at Marks Stadium on Feb. 22, most recently defeating the then-No. 14 Texas A&M Aggies 6-1 on Monday. The Trojans did so without the help of freshman Max de Vroome, ranked No. 104 by the Intercollegiate Tennis Association, whose recent wrist injury has given a few of his teammates some extra playing time. Junior co-captain Michael Grant, who has risen to a career-high No. 87 in the country, has stepped up to fill in for de Vroome in doubles play, while No. 86 sophomore Jonny Wang has been playing well at the No. 6 singles slot in de Vroome’s absence.

“We work very hard with all of our players and we’re very fortunate that we’re eight-deep,” USC head coach Peter Smith said. “Michael Grant has really come in and given us a boost in doubles. The energy he’s bringing is phenomenal.”

The rest of the team will need to bring high energy to Palo Alto, as the No. 49 Cardinal (7-5) are currently streaking as well, winning four-straight to bounce back from a losing streak of equal length. Stanford is led by No. 54 sophomore John Morrissey and No. 88 freshman Nolan Paige, who secured the Cardinal’s only point when USC hosted Stanford earlier this season in a non-conference matchup. Although the Trojans already defeated the Cardinal 6-1 this season, the players refuse to let up.

“Every single match is important for us to get better. … Our main goal is in May and that’s what really matters for us,” junior co-captain Emilio Gomez said, ranked No. 6 nationally.

Today’s match is not only special because it represents the opening of Pac-12 play — it also serves as Smith’s chance to acquire his 500th win as a head coach. Smith has coached for 26 years, the past 11 of which he has spent with the Trojans. In 2012, he was named the ITA National Coach of the Year after guiding the team to its fourth consecutive national championship.

“He’s a great coach,” junior co-captain Ray Sarmiento said. “He’s done so much for me, so it’ll be pretty special to win 500 for him.”

Smith remains humble about his impressive coaching record, which currently stands at 499 wins and only 199 losses.

“When you’re a coach, it’s never about you, ever,” Smith said. “It’s about the kids.”

Should USC falter against Stanford, Smith will get another chance to reach the milestone against the No. 15 California Golden Bears (8-7) on Sunday. The Golden Bears, who the Trojans defeated 7-0 earlier this season at Marks Stadium, are led by No. 44 junior Ben McLachlan, No. 46 junior Campbell Johnson and No. 66 senior Christoffer Konigsfeldt. Additionally, Johnson and Konigsfeldt make up the the No. 26 doubles team in the country, while USC’s highest-ranked doubles team, comprising Sarmiento and sophomore Yannick Hanfmann, sits at No. 37.

Smith praised Sarmiento and Hanfmann for their recent success, and added that many players, especially Gomez and Pac-12 player of the week sophomore Roberto Quiroz, have found their rhythm at this point in the season.

“Emilio has really dedicated himself to work as hard, or harder, than anybody in the country,” Smith said. “His success is really due to the hard work that he has put in. Yannick has been amazing because he’s been hurt the whole season. … He’s been maturing as a player and a person.”

Friday’s match against Stanford kicks off at 1:30 p.m. Sunday’s match against California will begin at 1:30 p.m. and will be televised on the Pac-12 Network.