Tennis showcases talent at ITA Kickoff Weekend

Senior tennis player Daniel Cukierman beat out UCLA’s top senior in the ITA Kickoff Weekend. (Daily Trojan file photo)

The pandemic halted the start of the Fall 2020 tennis season. Now, USC tennis is back on the courts and showcasing their hard work after a long hiatus. 

As the 2020 ITA Champions, the men’s tennis team intends to run it back and add additional accolades this season. Despite one of their top stars graduating, former All-American Brandon Holt, the Trojans are still playing at the highest level in collegiate tennis. 

They are off to a phenomenal start so far. Currently, the team is ranked No.1 as an overall team while also having the No. 1 Singles player senior Daniel Cukierman and No. 1 Doubles team with redshirt senior Riley Smith and Cukierman. With so much talent on the roster, the team is looking to take down any hurdle that comes their way.

“We lost Brandon, which was a big piece, but maintaining guys like Riley and Daniel, and the rest of the guys that we [have] on this team and adding a few —that’s a big reason for [our No. 1 ranking],” head coach Brett Masi said. “But, every team out there is going to be good this year, just like any other year, and we got to go out and prove it every day.”

After starting the season with some easy wins at the Pepperdine Invite against the Pepperdine Waves and Loyola Marymount Lions to start the season, the Trojans went on to win all their games again this last week.

The ITA Kickoff Weekend, which ran from Jan. 23 to 25,  hosted Cal, UNLV, and USC’s crosstown rival No. 18 UCLA. USC played UNLV and UCLA during the tournament and easily knocked off the Bruins 4-1 in the tournament’s championship game.

The most notable matchup was between No. 1 Cukierman and UCLA senior No. 10 Keegan Smith. Cukierman fell down early, losing the first set 4-6, but came back to win the last two sets 6-2, 6-1. 

On Friday, USC hosted LMU at Marks Stadium where the Trojans swept their opponents in all matchups. That made the Trojans 2-0 against the Lions this season. 

So far, USC is undefeated in singles play, going 32-0. They have kept up their momentum from last season and haven’t looked back.

“It’s nice just to be back out on the courts. I’ve been telling the guys all along, we’ve just got to find our groove again because it has been so long since a lot of us have competed,” Masi said. “The expectations as the season goes on are going to be raised up.”

The men’s team will face Saint Mary’s, Boise State and San Diego State this weekend. After that, the team is looking to repeat as champions at the 2021 ITA National Indoors Championship on Feb. 12. 

USC’s women’s team is also having a strong start to the season. Ranked No. 17 at the  start of their campaign, the Trojans headed over to Malibu to play in the ITA Kickoff Weekend last week where they won their first game against Denver Pioneers in a dominant 4-1 win. 

The match was delayed due to rainy weather, but the Trojans came out flying with the No. 12 duo of redshirt senior Angela Kulikov and sophomore Erin Cayetano winning their matchup against No. 36 pairing of junior Taylor Melville and senior Hada Chang. 

Unfortunately for USC, in the championship game against No. 5 Pepperdine the Trojans fell 2-4 against the Waves. 

No. 48 Cayetano dropped a match against No. 33 graduate student and former Trojan Jessica Failla, losing 6-2, 3-6, 7-5. Similarly, newcomer No. 103 freshman Naomi Cheong put up an impressive fight against the No. 1 graduate student Ashley Lahey, almost beating Lahey in a tiebreaker in the second set. However, Lahey prevailed, winning 4-6, 7-6 (5), 6-4. 

The women’s team plans to shake off their losses at the ITA National Indoors tournament this weekend in Stillwater, Oklahoma. 

Overall, Trojans tennis is off to a fantastic start this season and both teams performances thus far give USC fans reason to be optimistic.