1997 Men's Tennis Team Outlook
There will be a world of difference--literally--between last year's USC men's tennis team and the 1997 Trojans. USC, which lost its top 5 starters from the 1996 team that finished 18-7 (7-3 in Pacific-10 play for a second-place tie) and reached the NCAA quarterfinals, was forced to scour the world to find 5 newcomers.
"We had to go back into the trenches and search the world over to find the quality of athletes who can compete at USC," says Dick Leach, who has a 423-92 record and 3 NCAA team championships in 17 years as the Trojan head coach. "I think we've found 5 players who will fit in both academically and athletically."
The new Trojans will have big shoes to fill. Gone from last year's team are 4 seniors: Adam Peterson, a 2-time singles All-American who played the No. 2 spot (14-10 in dual matches) for Troy in 1996; Manuel Ramirez (16-7), who manned the No. 3 spot; Lukas Hovorka (14-9), an Academic All-American first teamer who played No. 4 for Troy; and Reid Slattery (11-12, primarily at No. 5).
In addition, Cecil Mamiit (19-4 at No. 1)--the 1996 NCAA singles champion as just a freshman--made a last-minute decision in the summer to turn professional, forcing the Trojan coaches to scramble to find a last-second replacement player.
"The lure of professional tennis with its pot of gold is increasingly more of an issue in college tennis," says Leach, who will again be assisted by Ryan McKee. "But this is the first time I've ever lost a freshman player to the pros and that was a bit of a setback. It's fortunate that we were prepared with 5 new players ready to step right in and join our 2 returning players."
Back for his third season at USC is junior Fernando Samayoa, a 1995 All-American in doubles who played No. 6 singles for Troy last year (15-6). Also returning is junior Kyle Spencer, who was USC's top reserve in singles (4-0) and a member of USC's No. 1 doubles team for the past 2 years (14-9 in 1996 with Mamiit).
The 5 newcomers who comprise Leach's "World Wide Web" include freshman Johannes Mueller from Germany and sophomore Scott Willinski of Jamaica. In addition, 3 talented players are expected to join the Trojans in January: freshman Patrick Gottesleben of Germany, junior George Bastl of Switzerland (he played at South Florida in 1996) and freshman Akram Zaman of Australia (whose sister, Ayisha, played for USC's women's team from 1993-96).
Also contributing to Troy in a reserve role this year are sophomores Andrew Hughes and Robbie Waldman and redshirt freshman Ryan Hollis. Leach is unsure of USC's doubles teams in 1997 but he's confident that with 3 talented doubles players (Spencer, Mueller and the All-American Samayoa) to build around, the Trojan tandems will once again be successful.
"In doubles, it's important to find the right combination of personalities that correspond well with their individual styles of play," says Leach. "I'll need to see how the 3 players who are joining us in January match up with our other players. "It's going to be a real bag of tricks this year. The newcomers are experienced and they're proven winners. I won't be afraid to play any of them against any of the better players in college tennis.
"A lot of people who know how many players we lost don't expect us to have a chance this year but I think we're going to surprise them. With the addition of the 3 players coming in January, we can once again be a Top 10 team."
And, if that prediction comes true, Leach and his Trojans will feel like they're sitting on top of the world.