Holt Bolts to the Top

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Written by Fernando Stepensky, USC blog contributor

The church bells tolled to mark 9 o'clock on an April night in Ojai, CA. In what was billed as "freshman talent vs. senior leadership," USC's Brandon Holt was locked in a battle with UCLA's Gage Brymer to decide the Pac-12 Men's Tennis championship.

The Trojans had made their way out to a 3-1 lead, but UCLA roared back to tie the match at 3-all, turning all eyes toward the final clash on Court 1. Holt and Brymer had traded the first two sets, then held serve all the way until the final game of set three. Nineteen-year-old Holt crushed a cross-court forehand on his third match point to finally break Brymer and clinch the victory for USC. His teammates rushed the court, lifting him up on their shoulders, and his mother -- Tracy Austin -- breathed a sigh of relief as she buried her head in her hands.

"Oh my gosh, that was so exciting," said Austin, who is a former world No. 1 tennis player and the youngest woman to ever win the U.S. Open. "All of a sudden Brandon's put into the situation as a freshman to play [Brymer], who is one of the most successful juniors in Southern California in the last decade, and he's a senior at your rival school. You just couldn't have put the pieces of the puzzle together better."

usc-mens-tennis-oregon-2017-mcgillen-2111.jpgHolt is the first USC freshman to play consistently at No. 1 singles since 2003, and with such a highly touted team this year, the accomplishment -- and the match-clinching victory at this year's Pac-12 Championship -- were all the more impressive.

USC men's tennis coach Peter Smith attributes Holt's success at the No. 1 spot to his level-headedness and ability to not put pressure on himself, even drawing a comparison between Holt and the calm, cool and collected USC football star Sam Darnold. 

"He makes everything look routine," Smith said of the freshman, who's ranked No. 19 in the nation. "In a way it's like, 'Whatever,' and I can promise you if Brandon was playing any other position it would be the same."

In fact, Holt conveyed an almost identical sentiment. 

"If coach wanted me to play two, I would be completely fine with that because I think that is what would be best for the team at the moment," Holt said. "I guess I didn't really expect to play No. 1, but I also wasn't very surprised. Coming in, I knew that I was playing very well, getting into the junior slams, I think I was around 40 in the world in the juniors, so I had a lot of confidence coming in, which was very nice, but it was never, 'I'm going to play one, I need to play one.'"

Holt's lack of total surprise makes sense, though, as he had already secured some major accomplishments under his belt on the junior circuit. While a student at Palos Verdes High, Holt traveled with the United States Tennis Association as a representative from his age group and played tournaments in Brazil and even in Europe for the Junior French Open.

"It's all fun, I mean I love it. You're traveling with your best friends and then coaches that are a lot of fun, so I mean every single trip is fun, but Brazil was a lot of fun," Holt said. "We went to Porto Alegre and São Paulo, we played two tournaments there, but the most fun was the one where we flew into Italy and played two tournaments in Italy, then one tournament in Belgium, and then the French Open, and unfortunately I got a stress fracture, so I had to pull out of Wimbledon, so that was kind of a bummer, but I think that was the most fun trip. It was four weeks in Europe with your best friends, just competing and just having a lot of fun."

usc-mens-tennis-oregon-2017-mcgillen-1980 (1).jpgHolt calls the International Tennis Federation Pan American Games, where he won in singles and doubles, his most memorable tournament as a junior. Holt also paired up with now-teammate Riley Smith at the Junior U.S. Open, where they earned wild cards into the draw, but made it to the finals.

Holt and Smith have continued to build upon that chemistry as USC's No. 1 doubles team this season, racking up a 24-7 record and a No. 14 national ranking. They recently earned an invitation to compete in the NCAA Doubles Championships, following the culmination of the team championships this month.

Both freshmen come from tennis families, but Holt's mother has never put pressure on her son to become a professional tennis player like she was. She insisted he continue attending high school when many other at his level opted to be homeschooled in order to practice and travel more often.

"I went to regular public high school even after I won the U.S. Open," Austin said. "I think that it's very important for us -- my husband Scott and I -- just to not put all of your eggs in one basket where you're missing out on the socialization, and that's even problem solving and time management and trying to figure out your day. I think it's benefited Brandon greatly with his academics, making that transition to USC. He's a very social kid, a very well-rounded kid, and I think even a lot of that shows up on the tennis court, that balance."

Holt insists that while supportive, his family has never forced him into tennis. His motivation comes from within.

"I'm definitely trying to play professional tennis. Every day I wake up trying to think of how I can improve on the tennis court," Holt said. "I'm still just trying to keep that door open [as a business administration major] in case anything happens. I'm just trying to be realistic and honest with myself that there's a lot of people who are trying to be professional athletes, and it's not as easy as you think, things can happen. I think I'm on a great path and I'm giving myself every opportunity that I can to play professional tennis."

Holt and the Trojans secured the No. 4 seed in this month's NCAA Tournament and will host Denver in a first-round matchup at 1 p.m. this Friday. Should the Trojans win, they'll host the winner of Wisconsin vs. USD on Saturday at 1 p.m. Both matches take place at USC's Marks Stadium.

Meet Tyler Vaughns

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USC-FOOTBALL-SPRING-BALL-040617-MCGILLEN-5275lr.JPGName: Tyler Vaughns

Position: WR

Class: Redshirt Freshman

Size: 6-foot-2, 180 pounds

Age: 19

High School (Hometown): Bishop Amat HS (Pasadena, CA)

Game: Vaughns is a long and lanky receiver who loves to push vertically down the field and rise up to reel in contested jump balls. He has shown himself to be a smooth route runner this spring, taking advantage of his increased opportunities. He is in the mix this fall to fill the playmaking roles vacated by Darreus Rogers and JuJu Smith-Schuster.

Prep Career: Vaughns made 2015 Prep Star All-American Dream Team, Orange County Register Fab 15 first team, Tacoma News Tribune Western 100, USA Today All-California first team, Cal-Hi Sports All-State first team, All-CIF Pac 5 Division, Fox Sports West/Prime Ticket All-CIF, Los Angeles Times All-Area first team, San Gabriel Valley Tribune All-Area first team and All-Mission League Co-Player of the Year as a senior wide receiver and defensive back at Bishop Amat High in La Puente. He had 84 receptions for 1,319 yards (15.7 avg) with 13 TDs in 2015.

QB Sam Darnold on Vaughns: "Tyler's really improved route running and just learning the whole playbook."

Fun Fact: Vaughns prepped with fellow redshirt freshman WR Trevon Sidney at Bishop Amat, the alma mater of USC receiving greats JK McKay and John Jackson.

Coming In To Compete

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USC_Womens_soccer_UNC_mcgillen_2016_LR_USC_Womens_soccer_UNC_mcgillen_2016_DSC_3196 (2).JPGUSC's national champion women's soccer team signed six new Trojans to the squad, head coach Keidane McAlpine announced yesterday.

Click here for the full release!

Young women are coming from far and wide to join the team.

Defender Jessica Haidet (Atlanta, GA - Pace Academy) served as the NASA-Tophat Soccer Club team captain each year since 2012 and has attended a number of U.S. Soccer National Training Centers.

Forward Natalie Laser (Glencoe, IL - New Trier HS) led her club team (FC United) in goals for four straight years and earned all-state honors last year. She is the younger sister of USC men's tennis redshirt junior David Laser.

Midfielder Samantha Trinceri (Colorado Springs, CO - Discovery Canyon HS) has served as Colorado Storm team captain for five years and led the squad to four Northwest Conference Mountain Division championships.

Midfielder Arlie Jones (Las Vegas, NV - Bishop Gorman HS) is a member of the U-20 U.S. Youth National Team after being named the Tournament MVP at the U-18 International Cup in 2016.

Jones' club teammate Tara McKeown (Newbury Park, CA - Newbury Park HS) is a forward/defender for the U-20 U.S. Youth National Team as well. McKeown was named the Los Angeles Daily News Soccer Player of the Year in 2015-16.

The Trojans also signed goalkeeper Emily Cuthbert (Encinitas, CA - La Costa Canyon HS), who helped lead her team to the U.S. Youth Soccer National Title in 2015 and earned the Golden Glove, given to the top goalkeeper in the tournament.

These six players join a Trojan squad that went 19-4-2 last season en route to its second national championship. The 2017 Trojans kick off their season this August.

Follow the Women of Troy on Twitter and Instagram to stay up-to-date!

USC Baseball - Meet The Freshmen: Position Players

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Heading into the 2017 season, USC baseball head coach Dan Hubbs expressed uncertainty but excitement about his new-look roster.

USC's draftees and graduates left five starting spots open for USC's young talent to fill and freshmen Blake Sabol, Christian Moya and Matthew Acosta have all stepped up to the plate.

Sabol, a catcher from Aliso Viejo, CA, has started 16 games this season. Sabol has cardinal, gold and baseball in the blood, as his second cousin is USC legend Troy Polamalu and his older brother played baseball at Oregon and in the New York Mets organization.

Moya, an outfilder from Diamond Bar, CA, has started 12 games. Hubbs called him "an absolute run stopper in center field" and "a guy who shows that he is not scared of Division I baseball from the time he stepped on campus."

Acosta is an outfielder from Chino Hills, CA. He's started more games than any other freshman this season (32) and sports a .250 batting average.

Meet Sabol, Moya and Acosta:

On the pristine sand of Gulf Shores, AL yesterday, USC beach volleyball won its third straight national championship. The Women of Troy fought off wind and a remarkable effort by the Pepperdine Waves to clinch the title match by a 3-2 margin.

USC team photographer John McGillen was on hand to capture the battles on the sand and the celebration that ensued.

Beach Volleyball Three-Peats!

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IMG_8188.JPGNo. 1 USC beach volleyball delivered a hard-fought 3-2 victory over No. 3 Pepperdine yesterday to win its third straight national championship.

Click here for the full recap!

The Trojans earned a spot in the championship match by beating South Carolina, 4-0, Hawai'i, 4-0, and Pepperdine, 3-0. Pepperdine then won the contender's bracket to earn a rematch with USC in the championship.

The Waves came out of the gates strong with a straight-sets win over USC's Abril Bustamante and Joy Dennis on Court 4. But USC's Jenna Belton and Jo Kremer returned the favor on Court 5, tying things up as the teams headed into the second flight of matches.

All three of the Top 3 courts would go down to a third-set tiebreak. Pepperdine went up 2-1 with a three-set victory on Court 2, but USC's star duo of Kelly Claes and Sara Hughes tied things right back up, turning all eyes to Court 3, where USC's Terese Cannon and Nicolette Martin were also locked in a tiebreaker.

Martin's strong serving and Cannon's precise placement gave USC a slight advantage, setting up a match point which saw Cannon deliver the final blow.

Click here for highlights of the instant classic championship match!

Martin and Cannon, along with Claes, Hughes, Bustamante and Dennis, were named to the NCAA All-Tournament team.

The Women of Troy finished the season with a school-record 38 wins and just one loss. After winning the AVCA National Championship in 2015 and the inaugural NCAA Championship last year, the team has now won three straight national titles. Today's title is USC's 127th all-time and 104th NCAA crown.

Follow USC Beach Volleyball on Twitter and Instagram to stay in the loop on USC's latest national champs!

Golden Golfers

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Senior men's golfer Rico Hoey became the second player in program history to earn All-Pac-12 First Team honors four straight years, leading USC's five conference honorees this season.

Click here for the full release!

Hoey, who ranks second on the team in stroke average (70.88) this year, joins Sam Randolph as the only Trojans to accomplish the feat. Hoey is coming off a tie for second place at the Pac-12 Championships -- USC's best finish at the event since 2011.

Hoey is joined on the first team by Sean Crocker and Justin Suh. It's Crocker's third conference honor, after earning second team status last season and first team his freshman year. The Zimbabwe-born junior leads the team in stroke average (70.76) this year. Suh managed five Top 10 finishes including one win this season, and ranks third on the team in stroke average (71.21) to earn his second conference honor after making the All-Freshman team last year.

USC's three first teamers are its most since 2009 and the most of any school in the Pac-12 this year.

In addition to Hoey, Crocker and Suh, junior Jonah Texeira and freshman Cheng Jin earned Pac-12 Honorable Mention, while Jin was also named to this year's All-Freshman team.

Texeira earns his third straight conference honor after finishing in the Top 10 three times this season, including one win. Jin has finished in the Top 20 three times.

The Trojans earned a No. 1 seed in the upcoming Sammamish, WA NCAA Regional, which begins on May 15.

Smart And Sporty

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Five Trojan teams recently earned Public Recognition Awards from the NCAA for their outstanding performance in the classroom.

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USC baseball, men's volleyball, women's cross country, women's golf and women's tennis teams all earned the awards, which are based upon teams' commitment to academic progress and retention of student-athletes by achieving multiyear Academic Progress Rates (APR) within the top 10 percent in their respective sports. A team's APR comprises eligibility, retention and graduation.

This recognition comes just around a week before the latest class of USC student-athletes graduates. Student-athlete commencement takes place on May 11 at the Galen Center.


Tewaaraton Time

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USC-LACROSSE-2017-MPSF-CHAMPIONSHIP-MCGILLEN-043017_MCG1530.JPGUSC attacker Michaela Michael, the highest scoring women's lacrosse player in the nation, was named one of 25 nominees for the Tewaaraton Award yesterday.

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The Tewaaraton Award is given annually to the top male and female college lacrosse players in the United States.

Michael's 71 goals this season are the most in the nation, and set a new USC and MPSF single-season record. Her 126 draw controls also set a new MPSF record this year.

Click here to learn more about Michael!

Michael has led the No. 7 Trojans to a 16-3 record and a berth in the upcoming NCAA Tournament.

Five finalists will be selected on May 11 and the winner will be announced June 1.

2017 Football Mini-Plans

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USC football mini-plans are ON SALE NOW for the 2017 season, providing you the opportunity to customize your ticket purchases to fit your schedule and budget. Mini-plans are also your only chance to guarantee tickets to the UCLA and Texas games outside of buying season tickets.

Click here to shop now!

Fans can choose mini-plans in increments of two to seven games. Mini-plans allow fans to purchase only the games they want to attend, as well as save money off single game pricing and get seating preference over individual game ticket buyers.

The Flex Pack allows fans to pick two or more games. The Texas +1 and the UCLA +1 options let fans get tickets to either of those marquee games plus one additional game. The Football Tommy Pass is available in a 6-game (all but Texas) and 7-game package, priced at just $199 and $249 respectively, with seat locations varying from game to game. The VIP Pack gives fans access to two games in the field clubs just a few feet from the action of the east end zone.