After winning four consecutive national championships from 2009-2012, the USC men’s tennis team might consider their 2013 season a disappointment. The Trojans fell in the quarterfinals of the NCAA tournament, unable to pull off an unprecedented five-peat.
This season, the No. 4 Trojans hope to return to national prominence and will begin this quest this weekend as they host the ITA Kick-Off Weekend at Marks Stadium.
The men’s tennis team will host the No. 63 Wichita State Shockers, the No. 64 Georgia State Panthers and the unranked Santa Clara Broncos in the tournament, which begins on Saturday.
Should the Trojans come out on top, they will earn a spot in the ITA National Team Indoor Championships next month in Houston, Tex.
Sixty-four teams are competing in similar qualifiers to make it into the ITA Indoors. Last year, the Trojans came out on top of their Kick-Off Weekend tournament, and headed to Seattle for the Indoor Championships. The Trojans advanced to the finals, falling in the title match to eventual national champion Virginia. This season, they hope to have similar, if not better, results to open up the season.
“Whoever gets through this weekend qualifies for the top 16 teams,” head coach Peter Smith said. “They all meet in Houston in [three weeks]. That’s important for us, that we’re a part of that mix.”
The Trojans are highly motivated to start the season off right with a win this weekend, but ultimately they hope to strengthen their players, new and old, and make each match a learning experience.
“For me, I’m the type of coach that just wants good, hard, tough experiences to make my players better,” Smith said.
The Trojans will aim to remain grounded to the court, and an all-too-familiar one at that. This will be the fifth consecutive ITA Kick-Off weekend held at USC’s Marks Stadium, which the Trojans will try not to take for granted.
“You always want to play in your own living room,” Smith said. “You can get a lot more confidence because you’re used to the conditions here, the way the wind blows, where the sun is [and] the speed of the courts.”
Junior Jonny Wang, ranked No. 67 in the country in singles, is looking to match his accomplishments from the fall season. In October, Wang flexed his muscle in an upset of the then-third-ranked player in the nation — Ohio State’s Peter Kobelt.
Wang insists he and his teammates have maintained an intense workout since then.
“[The] biggest goal is to always improve and get better,” Wang said. “I think we’ve just got to be grounded and focus on improvement.”
Senior Ray Sarmiento and junior Yannick Hanfmann will see their first action of the spring season this weekend after being sidelined by lingering injuries.
Sarmiento is ranked No. 10 in the nation in singles and will play in the top slot in singles throughout the tournament. Hanfmann is the next-highest ranked Trojan singles player at No. 32 in the nation and will play at the two-spot for USC. Sarmiento and Hanfmann will pair up for the top doubles slot as well.
Junior Roberto Quiroz, ranked No. 113 in the nation in singles, will play at the third singles spot for the Trojans and freshman spring enrollee Connor Farren will play at No. 4. Rounding out the singles lineup will be No. 70 Michael Grant and sophomore Max de Vroome.
Following their success early in the spring season, Quiroz and Farren will play at the No. 2 doubles spot. Junior Eric Johnson and sophomore Max de Vroome, who won the ITA Southwest Regional doubles championship last fall, will complete the doubles rotation.
Georgia State and Wichita State will face off Saturday at 8 a.m. at Marks Stadium. Then, USC will battle Santa Clara at 11 a.m. The losers of each match will play at 10 a.m. on Sunday, while the championship match will be held afterward at 1 p.m.