Fueled by the leadership of veteran captains junior Steve Johnson, senior Jaak Poldma and a bevy of maturing young talent, the USC men’s tennis team looks to continue its strong play in Pac-10 competition, following recent drubbings of Stanford and California, by hosting Oregon and Washington on Friday and Saturday at Mark’s Stadium.
A week after its Bay Area roadtrip, No. 2 USC (16-2, 2-0) finds itself a spot higher in the national rankings.
“The season’s getting better,” Johnson said. “Guys are getting healthier and healthier. Ray [Sarmiento’s] been back in the lineup consistently and is playing very well for us. The team’s getting closer, stronger and coming together.”
Sarmiento was named Pac-10 Player of the Week, after Poldma received the honor last week for the second time this season.
Johnson, still ranked No. 1 nationally, credits his younger teammates and the steady play of his co-captain for the team’s success.
“Both [Stanford and Cal] are very good programs, and we were fortunate enough to just go out there and play very well in singles, with the freshman especially and Jaak,” Johnson said.
But the wins haven’t come from the new blood alone. Johnson and Poldma, who have played at No. 2 and No. 3 this season, are both undefeated in their singles matches.
USC coach Peter Smith couldn’t be more proud of Poldma, who is set to graduate in May.
“Jaak’s always been an incredible example off the court, but he wants to make a statement graduating,” Smith said. “He’s a great, incredible leader, and he’s just doing it on the court in singles and doubles.”
Strong leadership, it seems, might be the key to the Trojans’ success.
“To have your number one and two players undefeated? I haven’t been able to say that ever,” Smith said. “The last two weeks have been the proudest for me in the last years.”
Smith attributes the success to the diligence and hard work of the entire team, from top to bottom, and as the Trojans prepare to battle the Ducks and the Huskies, they only have one goal in sight.
“They’re both good teams, and we never want to look past anyone,” Johnson said. “We want to compete hard both days and come out of the weekend 4-0 in Pac-10 play.”
Oregon does not have any ranked players on its roster, and in last season’s matchup, the Trojans walked away with a 7-0 victory over the Ducks.
USC edged out Washington 4-3 last spring.
Staying focused, Smith says, is key to prospects of continued success and will be the real test of the weekend.
“We’ve got to stay humble and we have to stay hungry,” he said.