Men’s tennis picking up momentum to close out season

Redshirt senior Riley Smith notched a huge victory Tuesday to extend USC’s lead against San Diego. (Eli Masket | Daily Trojan)

With a tightly-contested 5-2 win against the No. 35 San Diego Toreros, the No. 10 USC men’s tennis team is staying on pace to end the season strong after their stumbles over the last month. 

USC men’s tennis began the season as the No. 1 ranked team in the nation in both singles and doubles after a successful start. However, currently ranked No. 10, things have changed since then. 

The Trojans kept their stride at the start of February winning their games against Saint Mary’s, UC Irvine, San Diego State and Kentucky. During the sweep against Saint Mary’s, head coach Brett Masi picked up his 200th win, an outstanding milestone in his illustrious career so far.  

However, the team went through a rough patch at the 2021 ITA National Team Indoor Championship where they were looking to repeat as national champions. First, they faced an upset losing 1-4 to the host Illinois Fighting Illini, then lost to No. 5 Texas Longhorns 3-4 in the consolation semifinal match and finally falling 3-4 to No. 3 TCU Horned Frogs. 

Despite the Trojans’ sub-par performance at the ITA Indoor Championship, they kept their perseverance to bounce back during the end of the month by winning all three of their matchups, beating No. 5 TCU 4-0 at home. 

“Our guys were … chomping at the bit to be ready to play TCU when they came back,” head coach Brett Masi said about the team’s drive to bounce back from those losses. “[I am] just super proud of their ambition to want to come back [and] have revenge [against TCU].”

Another impressive match was against crosstown rivals, No. 17 UCLA, where the Trojans won decisively 4-3. 

The No. 1 Trojans double team of senior Daniel Cuckierman and redshirt senior Riley Smith were able to edge out senior Keegan Smith and junior Patrick Zahraj in a close 6-4 game. 

In singles, both No. 1 Cuckierman and No. 19 Smith lost their respective matches. However the other Trojans, No. 26 junior Mor Bulis, junior Bradley Frye, freshman Lodewijk Weststrate and junior Jake Sands were able to close up shop to hand the Trojans their win against the Bruins. 

Although the No. 8 men’s team was able to end the month of February on a high note, they faced another upset at home against local Malibu-based No. 27 Pepperdine Waves in a 3-4 loss. 

Despite not playing Cuckierman, the Trojans still fielded out their other top players like Smith and Bulis, but ended up losing in the doubles point. Pepperdine’s single wins against Bulis, junior Jake Sands and freshman Sean Holt, got them the 3-4 win against USC. 

In their first home Pac-12 conference match this season, the Trojans demonstrated their resilience and beat Utah Utes 7-0 despite not playing some of their starters. 

“We’re just getting ready to start playing, I think better and better each week,” said Masi on the team’s momentum. “More importantly what I have been happy with is the guys that have been able to step up in certain moments and jump in to win some big matches.

Moving forward the Trojans will continue conference play against the Stanford Cardinals, No. 16 Arizona Wildcats and No. 17 Arizona State Sun Devils. After conference regular-season games are over at the end of April, the Trojans will look forward to competing at the Pac-12 Championships. 

Even with a few hiccups over the last month, the Trojans men’s tennis team are determined to finish the season strong like last year.