While there has not been much to get excited about in terms of USC sports lately, there is one bright spot for fans this spring. With one of the strongest lineups in the country, the men’s tennis team has a strong chance to claim its 22nd national title.
The Trojans were just announced as the No. 1 team in the country Wednesday morning. After starting the season at No. 3 they moved up two spots following losses from Florida and Texas.
If the early season outcome is any barometer for how good this year’s team is, then this is a scary team to match up against. Now sitting comfortably at a 4-0 record, they are coming off dominant wins over Pac-12 powerhouses and top-15 teams in Stanford and Cal. In both matches, the Trojans lost just one point to their Northern California rivals, both of whom beat USC last year.
Every year USC fields one of the strongest teams in the nation, but this team has a different feel to it, and even its rivals know it. From top to bottom, this is a complete team that is easily one of the strongest, if not the strongest, teams in the country.
No other team can say that the No. 1 player in the country is their second-best player. While junior, Daniel Cukierman had an impressive fall season to claim the top spot nationally, it’s senior Brandon Holt who leads the team in singles. Holt spent his summer and fall playing on the professional circuit.
Cukierman’s fall saw him lose only one match in tournament play. He is looking strong as ever, especially after clinching wins in two of the first four matches of the fall season.
Holt and Cukierman are not alone at the top of the lineup. Third is senior Riley Smith, who is now one of the leaders of this team. Smith enters 2020 with high expectations — he is ranked No. 26 in the country in singles and is ranked on three different teams in doubles. He even won a pro-level event in January with Cukierman in doubles. The regular season has already seen him secure an impressive win in straight sets over a ranked opponent in Stanford.
Where most other top teams such as UCLA, Cal, Ohio State and Stanford lose depth after the top two or three singles positions, the Trojans are deeper than ever in the bottom half of their lineup. This is the team’s biggest strength. The key to doing well in college tennis and making a deep run is squad depth, and that is exactly what this team has.
With seven ranked singles players and four ranked doubles teams, the lineup is brimming with depth that few other schools can match or even compete with. This depth gives first-year head coach Brett Masi a plethora of options that will keep the team competitive and well-rested, another key component to a championship run.
Two of the newest Trojans — freshmen Ryder Jackson and Stefan Dostanic — have already made a strong impression. Jackson has yet to lose in dual matches and Dostanic clinched his first career victory against No. 15 Cal over the weekend.
The Trojans’ hot start to the season comes without the help of a key member of last year’s Pac-12 winning team. Sophomore Jake Sands, who went 14-5 last year in dual match play, is currently out with an ankle injury. Once he is back, the team will be even more menacing to opponents. The early season success without Sands in the lineup shows just how deep the team is and further proves its pedigree as the nation’s top squad.
The Trojans have an ideal blend of experience and young promise, as it is comprised of four upperclassmen, including two seniors, and six underclassmen. This blend of young and old bodes well for the team in future and gives the younger players the chance to learn and be guided by the best competitors in college tennis.
This is one of the strongest teams in the nation, and every team knows this. Only time will tell if the Trojans can secure their 22nd national title, but on paper, the team has the talent to achieve such a lofty goal. As for now, the entire country is on watch. This team is on a quest to storm Oklahoma in May and come home with hardware.