In its final regular-season game of the season, No. 13 men’s tennis defeated No. 27 UCLA at Marks Stadium Saturday.
The Trojans were looking to complete the season sweep with the Bruins after defeating UCLA in both of their previous meetings.
The game’s scheduling was hit with multiple delays, which slightly impacted the Trojans’ performance. It was originally scheduled for Friday, April 16th, but the teams mutually decided to postpone the match because of personal matters in the Bruins’ team. On Saturday, the match was delayed again from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. to get umpires.
The Trojans lost a doubles point out of the gates, with the duo of junior Jake Sands and freshman Lodewijk Weststrate quickly dropping their match against UCLA’s pair of senior Lucas Bellamy and junior Mathew Tsolakyan, by a score of 1-6. The strong partnership of sophomore Stefan Dostanic and junior Bradley Frye got the Trojans a win against UCLA junior Patrick Zahraj and senior Bryce Pereira, 6-3.
It was up to the No. 5 doubles team in the nation, senior Daniel Cukierman and redshirt senior Riley Smith, to beat UCLA sophomore Drew Baird and junior Govind Nanda. Despite their efforts in a close match, Cukierman and Smith lost, giving the Bruins the doubles point to start the afternoon.
“We didn’t play a great doubles point, I think because of our nerves,” head coach Brett Masi about the team’s initial performance in doubles. “But, in singles, we [the team] put that aside and we were ready to go.”
Masi’s group was ready after doubles as they dominated in singles play, with all Trojans winning in straight sets in their respective matchups against the Bruins, giving USC a resounding 6-1 overall victory.
This game also marked senior day matches for two of the Trojans’ top performers this season, No. 29 Smith and No. 42 Cukierman. The highly-ranked duo ended the season on a strong note despite initially losing their doubles match.
Smith faced Baird, and won 6-3, 6-4 while Cukeriman won in commanding fashion against No. 62 Nanda.
Masi had nothing but praise for both Cukierman and Smith for their resilience in today’s matchup, as well as their impressive development during Masi’s two-year tenure at USC.
“I have known Riley [Smith] for 16 plus years … when I was the assistant and he was a kid you know,” Masi said about his time with Smith whose father, Peter Smith, was the former Trojans head coach and won five NCAA championships. “He’s an incredible dude [Riley Smith] and just very proud of him for what he’s become and who he is going to become in future years.”
Masi was similarly impressed with Cukierman’s progression and mentality over time.
“And then Daniel [Cukierman] … can’t say enough about his work ethic, his determination, sometimes it’s his detriment because he wants it so badly,” Masi said. “But, you know … good things come to those guys because they work so hard.”
The determination from both Cukierman and Smith as well as other members of USC during the singles matchups showed perseverance when it mattered most, earning the team their win.
The Trojans will head down to San Diego to carry their momentum into the Pac-12 Tournament this weekend at the Barnes Tennis Center, April 23-26.