The tough road stretch continues for the No. 5 USC men’s tennis team as it officially begins Pac-10 play in the Pacific Northwest this weekend with two matches.
The Trojans (14-2, 0-0), play today at No. 65 Oregon and head up to Seattle on Saturday to face off against No. 21 Washington (15-1, 0-0).
Spring break started with a disappointing loss at Duke but concluded with an impressive victory at Georgia — snapping a 71-home-match win streak for the Bulldogs.
With the Georgia victory, the Trojans feel they are headed in the right direction heading into conference play.
“Coming home from the Georgia match we gained momentum and positive energy,” senior Jason McNaughton said. “Now we head up to Oregon and Washington with confidence.”
Confidence is important as Pac-10 play opens up, but it alone will not carry the Trojans against teams who have had successful seasons thus far.
Oregon (11-4, 0-0) has one ranked singles player — No. 91 senior Alexander Cornelissen — and one ranked doubles team. Historically, USC has had success against the Ducks with a 15-0 all-time record.
Washington’s 15-1 start is the best in the school’s history, and the Huskies currently own a 10-match winning streak.
As with Oregon, Washington has one ranked singles player — No. 54 junior Jeevan Nedunchezhiyan — and one ranked doubles squad.
The Trojans have played eight of their last 10 matches away from Marks Stadium. The travel has been taxing, but there have been some positive results.
“It brings the team closer together,” sophomore Steve Johnson said of the travel.
Injuries have continued to be an issue throughout the season for USC. During the break, the injury bug hit senior Robert Farah and sophomore Matt Kecki.
Even though no coach would want any injured players, USC coach Peter Smith looks at this situation as an opportunity to display the depth of his team.
“That’s the bright side of injuries,” Smith said. “We have new guys playing, so we have some fresh blood. We hope to have [Farah] playing this weekend and Kecki later in Pac-10 play.”
McNaughton stepped in admirably during spring break and won two of the three matches he participated in, displaying senior leadership and the depth of the team as a whole.
The Trojans will need contributions from all players as the conference season progresses.
“Everyone has stepped in immensely this year, and we will need that for the rest of the [Pac-10 schedule],” Johnson said.
The scheduling of all of the recent road matches has been designed to test the Trojans and build character, and they will have two more opportunities to continue to do so on the road this weekend.
“We played so much on the road to be able to handle the road and build that toughness,” Smith said. “Let’s see how we handle it.”