Tennis

Worth the wait: USC men’s tennis repeats as Pac-12 champions in San Diego

After an over three-hour rain delay, the Trojans took down Arizona State for the conference title.

After a cancelled 2020 season and a more than three-and-a-half-hour rain delay, the Trojans finally got the opportunity to defend their 2019 Pac-12 title on Monday night. Under the lights in San Diego, they closed out Arizona State 4-1 to secure their second consecutive conference title.

“It’s just a step toward the end goal, which is winning one of those bad boys behind me,” head coach Brett Masi said while gesturing to the NCAA titles behind him. “We can do some pretty special things.”

The quarterfinal and semifinal matches followed a similar path early on. USC grabbed doubles victories on courts one and two to secure early 1-0 leads.

Three singles victories in straight sets saw the Trojans make quick work of Oregon with a 4-1 win on Saturday, but Sunday proved to be a more difficult task.

The Wildcats bested the Trojans in Tucson last month, and despite USC’s dominant doubles performance, Arizona had a strong singles showing. Forcing all but one of their singles defeats to third sets, the Wildcats ultimately fell 4-1 to the revenge-seeking Trojans in Sunday’s semifinal.

Waiting for them in the final was an Arizona State team fresh off of a win over the tournament’s No. 1 seed, Stanford. However, the first Pac-12 championship match since 2019 would have to wait a little bit longer.

A rain delay on Monday pushed a match originally scheduled for 3 p.m. PT to about 7:30 p.m. PT.

“Our guys did a great job overall,” Masi said of the delay. “It’s different for different people. Some can get a little more antsy. You have to figure out meals and preparation, so it takes the whole team.”

The experience and brilliance of USC seniors Daniel Cukierman and Riley Smith got the Trojans to the final, but it was a total team effort to ultimately secure the title.

Cukierman and Smith both went unbeaten on the weekend in singles and doubles, but their doubles win on Monday night was not enough, as the Sun Devils grabbed the other two matches and the 1-0 lead.

Many of the singles matches hung in the balance early on, but the Trojans executed when it mattered most to snag five first sets and grab firm control of the championship match.

“Different guys stepped up in different matches,” Masi said. “That’s awesome that you’re not just doing it with one or two guys always at the same time.”

Victories from juniors Jake Sands and Bradley Frye as well as freshman Lodewijk Weststrate put the Trojans one point from the title. Sophomore Stefan Dostanic, who boasted an undefeated weekend of his own, had his forehand returned into the net, sealing the repeat Pac-12 championship for USC.

“The guys just believed in the process throughout this whole year,” Masi said. “[The Pac-12 title] is going to give us that confidence going into the first rounds of the NCAAs. These guys are playing the tennis that they want to play and putting themselves in a good position to win.”

The now 20-6 and Pac-12 champion Trojans are hoping to secure one of the host sites for the first round of the NCAA Tournament, which will be announced on May 3.

The No. 5 seed USC women took on No. 4 seed Arizona State on Saturday with a trip to the Pac-12 Championship semifinals on the line. Despite earning a 5-2 victory over the Sun Devils earlier this month, the Trojans fell in a 4-3 nail-biter in San Diego.

Even in winning the last meeting, the Trojans failed to win the doubles point. They faced no such troubles this time around, however, completely dominating with two 6-1 victories to grab the 1-0 edge.

After missing the last two matches due to injury, freshman Naomi Cheong made her return for the Trojans in singles. However, she was forced to withdraw after the first set once again, leveling the score at one apiece.

Despite the injury, the Trojans, as they have done time and time again this season, showed no signs of quitting. The next four matches were split, with redshirt senior Clare McKee and sophomore Eryn Cayetona earning the two points for USC.

The Trojans’ attempt to overcome the injury ultimately fell short, as redshirt senior Summer Dvorak lost a close match on court five to give the Sun Devils the 4-3 victory.

The loss sends the Trojans home early from the Pac-12 Championship and drops their overall record to 11-10 on the season. The fate of their season will be announced on May 3 when the NCAA will announce the field for the 2021 NCAA Women’s Tennis Championship at 3 p.m. PT on NCAA.com.