The tennis season has barely started and the No. 1 USC Trojans have already brought home some hardware.
The past two weeks, the Trojans were on the road in Ohio and Wisconsin. After losing 2-4 at Ohio State, the Trojans went to Madison, where they routed the Badgers 6-1. These two matches served as tune-ups for the ITA Indoor Nationals this past Friday through Monday.
With a draw of the country’s 16 best teams, the Trojans were the second seed and opened up against No. 11 TCU, posting a 4-2 result. In the quarterfinals, they had a rematch against in-state rival No. 8 Stanford and came away with another victory despite missing their top singles player, senior Brandon Holt. The next day, in the semifinals, the Trojans squared off against No. 13 Michigan, who had knocked out No. 3-seeded Texas in the previous round.
It was a hard-fought battle against the Wolverines as the Trojans lost the doubles, but were able to secure the comeback win by taking four singles matches. The 4-3 win over Michigan booked the Trojans’ spot in the finals where they faced No. 5 North Carolina.
Last year in the NCAA Tournament, the Trojans were knocked out at home by the Tar Heels, so the chance to win a title over this same team made for an important match.
The Trojans came out flying on Monday by winning the doubles to take the lead and momentum into singles. On the top court, Holt was forced to retire after battling illness all week, giving the Tar Heels an early point to make the score 1-1. The rest of the team picked up where they left off in doubles and earned wins in quick succession from junior Daniel Cukierman, freshman Stefan Dostanic and sophomore Mor Bulis to clinch the 4-1 victory and the title.
As soon as Bulis won his match point, the team charged him in celebration. Not only did the Trojans exact revenge after last year’s loss, but they also took home their fourth-ever ITA Indoor National title.
One of the standout performers of the tournament was Cukierman, who went undefeated in all of his matches in singles and doubles, going a perfect 4-0 in both. Joining Cukierman’s perfect weekend was his doubles partner, senior Riley Smith, who went 4-0 in doubles and 2-0 in singles, with his other two matches getting suspended. These two helped carry the team through the tournament as they were missing their top player in Holt for most of the tournament because of his illness.
The depth of the team was present throughout the tournament as Holt was in and out of the lineup, and every player stepped up to the challenge as they shuffled through a couple of different lineups throughout.
This win solidifies the team as the best in the country and is a promising sign as they gear up for Pac-12 play, which begins in just a few weeks. With a couple of gutsy comeback wins, the Trojans have also shown they have the mental strength to come from behind and get wins when they need to.
Passing these early season tests just further proves the national championship pedigree of this team. If they can perform the way they did over the weekend at indoors, they could add quite a few more pieces of hardware to the cabinet come May when the season ends.
The win is first year head coach Brett Masi’s first title at the helm of the program. His team is now sitting at a 9-1 overall record with its lone loss coming at Ohio State, which has only suffered one loss at home since 2003.
With conference play beginning in two weeks, the Trojans have a doubleheader scheduled Saturday when they take on Air Force at 10 a.m. and Army at 2 p.m. After the quick homestand, the team flies up to the Pacific Northwest the next weekend to begin conference play against Oregon and Washington.