Trojans take lessons from uneven weekend showing

A weekend that included its first loss did not equate to a lost weekend for the No. 1 USC men’s tennis team.

The Trojans (8-1, 0-0) played three matches­ — winning two and losing one — this past weekend at the ITA National Team Indoor Championships in snowy Charlottesville, Va.

Although USC began the tournament as the top seed and favorite to win, the trip did not conclude as expected.

“[The tournament] was somewhat of a disappointment,” junior Jaak Poldma said. “Being the No. 1 seed, we were hoping to win the tournament.”

Even though the end result was undesirable, the opportunity to play the nation’s top squads proved to be an invaluable experience as the team prepares for its first true away matches of the season.

USC opened play against No. 16 Fresno State (7-4) and notched a 4-0 sweep of the Bulldogs.

The Trojans again displayed their depth as sophomore Steve Johnson did not participate in the first-round match because of a nagging back injury.

Senior Jason McNaughton provided a big boost as he teamed up with senior Robert Farah to win their doubles match 8-3.

In the tournament’s second round, USC suffered its first loss of the season to No. 8 Texas (6-1) 4-2.

In another first this season, the Trojans surrendered the doubles point. The top two pairings of No. 13 Farah/Johnson and sophomore Daniel Nguyen/McNaughton were uncharacteristically blown out­ 1-8 and 2-8, respectively.

During singles, USC seemed to have turned things around with four of the six Trojans winning the first sets of their matches, but in the end they fell short in their comeback bid against the Longhorns. The loss set up a match against rival No. 3 UCLA (3-2) in the consolation round.

In their 4-0 sweep of the Bruins, the Trojans were able to finish the tournament on a positive note and overcome the sting of the season’s first loss.

In the tightly contested doubles portion, Poldma and junior Peter Lucassen upset the No. 36 duo of seniors Matt Brooklyn and Kallim Stewart 8-6, and Nguyen and freshman J.T. Sundling locked up the match’s initial point, winning in a tiebreak 9-8 (7-4).

The Trojans put forth a strong effort in singles ­— losing only one set — to finish off their crosstown rivals.

This marked the first win over the Bruins since 2007, giving the younger players their first taste of victory in this intense rivalry.

“It’s big to get over the hump, especially beating [UCLA] the way that we did and after coming off the loss to Texas,” Johnson said.

USC did arrive home to some individual accolades, as Poldma was named a USC Credit Union Student-Athlete of the Week for his strong performance at the Indoor Championships.

Poldma was undefeated, contributing two singles and two doubles victories.

As the Trojans head into the heart of the season, however, injuries remain a concern.

Johnson has been dealing with his injury since the beginning of the season, and USC coach Peter Smith attributed Johnson’s ailment to some of the difficulties the team endured, especially in doubles.

“We had no consistency with our No. 2 and No. 1 doubles throughout the weekend and a lot of that had to do with Steve Johnson and his back acting up,” Smith said.

The Trojans will take the lessons from this tournament and build upon them as they continue to focus on their ultimate goal.

“It was good to take us out of our natural element and give us some adversity,” Smith said. “It was great to see all the other teams and know what we have to do to win the NCAA title.”