Resilience turns to revenge for USC tennis

The Trojan men and women earned hard-fought victories against ranked opponents this week.

usc tcu tennis stefan dostanic

The No. 17 USC women split their pair of matches this week, falling 6-1 to No. 6 UCLA on Friday but rebounding to defeat No. 13 Oklahoma State 6-1 on Saturday.

UCLA controlled Friday’s match from the start, as seniors Annette Goulak and Vivian Wolff, alongside junior Elysia Bolton and grad-transfer Jada Hart, picked up victories, securing the doubles point and giving the Bruins the 1-0 lead.

The Bruins rode that momentum into the singles matches, winning all six first sets en route to the victory. Goulak, sophomore Abbey Forbes and sophomore Sasha Vagramov converted their first set victories into three points for the Bruins, sealing the win.

The remaining matches were played out and USC junior Salma Ewing battled to win her fourth consecutive match in a 10-point tiebreak to put the only point on the board for the Trojans.

Less than 24 hours after that difficult loss, the Trojans played host to another tough opponent in No. 13 Oklahoma State.

“It’s definitely challenging,” head coach Alison Swain said of the quick turnaround. “We asked [the players] to make a commitment to resilience.”

That commitment was evident, as the Trojans rallied from deficits across the board on their way to a 6-1 rout of the Cowboys.

OSU junior Bunyawi Thamechaiwait and sophomore Ayumi Miyamoto defeated USC freshman Naomi Cheong and sophomore Eryn Cayetano to take the 1-0 edge in the doubles matches. Meanwhile, USC fell behind in the other two doubles matches. Redshirt senior Summer Dvorak and junior Danielle Willson rallied in their match to tie things up as the final doubles match continued back and forth.

In the defining match of the afternoon, Ewing and redshirt senior Clare McKee battled back from a 6-5 deficit to earn the 7-6 victory over OSU’s Stara/Wolfberg, shifting the momentum in favor of the Trojans and giving them the 1-0 advantage.

“That point was huge for us. It gave us a lot of momentum going into singles,” Swain said. “Salma and Clare had match points against them. They had match points that they weren’t able to capitalize on. They didn’t get down on themselves. They played with confidence.”

In singles play, the Trojans relied on their resilience once again, as Cheong, Willson and Dvorak all rallied from early deficits to win their singles matches in two sets, clinching the match for USC.

In the remaining matches that were played out, Ewing notched her fifth consecutive victory and McKee came back from a 5-1 third-set deficit to win her match 6-1, 2-6, 7-5.

“They showed a lot of grit today.” Swain said of Ewing and McKee. “They showed their fitness. They showed their belief in their game and their tactics. Those matches were so close that you need all of those things to come out with a win in that scenario.”

On the men’s side, the No. 9 Trojans had two massive matchups this weekend against No. 5 TCU and No. 17 UCLA.

First up, Friday was a shot at revenge against a Horned Frog team who beat the Trojans 4-3 at Indoor Nationals earlier this month on Feb. 14.

“Obviously the guys are going to want revenge,” head coach Brett Masi said last week of the upcoming rematch. “You want to come back and prove that you can be worthy of the win.”

The Trojans jumped at the opportunity at hand, as senior Daniel Cukierman and redshirt senior Riley Smith as well as sophomore Stefan Dostanic and junior Bradley Frye were victorious in their doubles matches to give USC the early lead.

“Our guys had a good week of practice leading up to it and came out and played excellent,” Masi said. “We had a good doubles point and we kept the momentum and asserted ourselves.”

That momentum translated into the singles matches as Smith, Dostanic and freshman Lodewijk Weststrate earned the three wins the Trojans needed to clinch the victory.

“I knew our guys were gonna be ready for it,” Masi said. “They were hungry. They were excited, and they performed.”

Sunday would prove no easy task for the Trojans either, as they travelled across town to take on rival UCLA.

The Trojans once again started fast, as freshman Sean Holt and redshirt freshman Colter Smith rose to the occasion to win their doubles match 6-4. The USC duo of Cukierman and Riley Smith also earned a 6-4 doubles victory to put USC ahead 1-0 heading into singles.

“Today, we played shorthanded,” Masi said. “We didn’t have some of our normal starters in, but guys stepped up. In doubles, Colter and Sean did an amazing job in helping secure a doubles point. It was pretty impressive for the younger guys to come through like that.”

The hot start continued as USC junior Bradley Frye defeated UCLA grad-transfer Sam Feit in two sets to give the Trojans a 2-0 edge. However, the Trojans dropped all five other first sets, swinging the momentum in favor of the Bruins. Sophomore Drew Baird, senior Keegan Smith and redshirt senior Ben Goldberg all cashed in those first set victories to give the Bruins a shocking 3-2 lead.

Needing just one more point to clinch, the Bruins held leads in both remaining matches as the contest looked to be slipping away from the Trojans. However, USC dug in to force decisive third sets in both matches. Weststrate dominated his third set against UCLA junior Roscoe Bellamy 6-0 to tie things up at 3-3.

That comeback, of course, would be rendered meaningless without one last victory. With all other matches completed, the players lined court six as all eyes turned to the final remaining match between USC junior Jake Sands and UCLA junior Patrick Zahraj.

Both players received incredible vocal energy from their teammates, yelling so loud it was as if the stands were packed with fans. After a back-and-forth affair early, Sands pulled away to win the third set 6-3 and clinch an emotional come-from-behind victory for the Trojans over their rivals.

“Our guys did an amazing job creating that atmosphere for the team and for Jake,” Masi said. “No better feeling than being that last person on and coming through. Couldn’t be more happy for him.”

This Friday, the men play host to a Pepperdine team that, while unranked, is one of four teams receiving votes in the ITA Rankings as they will look to move to 11-3 on the season. The women’s team travels to the state of Washington for matches against the Huskies on Friday and Washington State on Sunday as it looks to improve on its 6-3 record.