Written by Sarah Bergstrom, USC blog contributor
The USC men's tennis team will face UCLA tomorrow (Marks Stadium at 3 p.m.) for the second time in one week. Coach Peter Smith knows this season marks the turning of an era but he also thinks his team is prepared to rise to the challenge.
The departure of Steve Johnson and Daniel Nguyen created a huge void for the USC men's tennis team at the beginning of the 2012-13 season. How do you replace a player with back-to-back NCAA Singles Championships and 72 consecutive singles victories? How do you replace a duo who helped contribute to four NCAA Team Championships? These questions followed the team into last weekend's ITA National Indoor Championships, where they lost in the title match to No. 1 Virginia.
"I think everybody had that question mark about us. The public had that question mark, our opponents had it. I think, even though it wasn't talked about in our locker room, that question was there. Last weekend we answered it," says head coach Peter Smith.
Smith says the most important goal through the beginning of this season has been finding an identity as a team. He knows the group is still in transition but he's impressed with the way the entire team has stepped up in the absence of Johnson and Nguyen.
"It was a total end of an era. But the entire team has really stepped up. Even though we've had a lot of success this year, we are still figuring things out. And to do as well as we did, it's great," Smith said.
It may only be the regular season, but the Trojans are preparing to face their rival yet again tomorrow. It will be the second of potentially four or more meetings this season.
"The really interesting thing about this match is that we played them on Sunday and it couldn't have been closer. Literally, points separated us, which is like scoring a game-winning basket at the buzzer. So, it will be interesting to see how that will change tomorrow."
It was an impressive third-set tiebreaker win by sophomore Roberto Quiroz that allowed the Trojans to beat UCLA 4-3. The match was tied 3-3 as Quiroz and UCLA's Adrien Puget battled it out on court three. Quiroz pulled through in a tiebreaker to clinch the final point, going 3-6, 6-3, and 7-6.
"I walked into the locker room and said, 'Look, we already knew we had four guys who can win under this amount of pressure, and now our other two proved they can as well.'"
As for tomorrow's match against the Bruins, Coach Smith says he expects it to be another battle.
"We've got to play better doubles and I think we are going to make some changes there. But really that's it. Tomorrow's just another step for us. It's a chance to see how tough we are. We played them on Sunday, beat them, now we've got to back it up."
There are always questions in this rivalry but Smith believes the best way to answer them is on the court. "Who's better indoors, who's better outdoors, who's better at their place, who's better at ours? I don't know. We just keep on answering questions. That's all we're going to do."