2003-04 Men's Tennis Season Outlook
Jan. 21, 2004
This year's USC men's tennis team is eager to turn a new leaf. Coming off a very uncharacteristic and disappointing performance last season, the 2003-04 Trojans are stronger, deeper, and looking forward to returning to the national spotlight.
The difficulties the Trojans had to face last season are now behind them. With a deep and healthy roster, which includes a perfect blend of experience and youth, it is now time to look to the success that lies ahead.
"There is a very real expectation here at USC because of the history of this program," said head coach Peter Smith, who enters his second season at Troy. "To struggle to compete last year and not be competitive in the Pac-10 was very difficult.
"The team is very excited for this season because we've remedied all the problems we were faced with last year. We now have a lot of depth and a lot of talent. We have experience and a lot of youth. We have guys who were on the team that won the NCAA Championship in 2002 and know what it's like, and we have youth and vigor."
Though last season may have been a disappointment to the team, it was far from average. The Trojans still managed to finish the season ranked No. 22. The team advanced to the second round of the NCAA Tournament, compiled a 14-12 overall record and finished tied for sixth in the Pac-10 - the nation's most competitive tennis conference.
"I'm just really excited to once again be competitive in the conference and know that we have a chance at the Pac-10 title, as well as a shot at the national championship," said Smith, who boasts a 284-147 (.659) career record after spending successful seasons at Long Beach State, Fresno State and Pepperdine. "I think we have a fabulous mix this season, including new members of the coaching staff and energetic, incoming players. I think it can be a great year."
Joining the coaching staff this season as an assistant coach is former Trojan standout Kyle Spencer, who played four seasons at USC (1995-98) and earned doubles All-America honors in 1997.
"Kyle has brought a ton of energy and experience to our team," said Smith. "I'm glad that he has joined the staff and I have already started to see results in the players' performances."
Leading the effort to return USC to national prominence this season will be letterwinners Daniel Langre (Mexico City, Mexico), Ruben Torres (Cali, Colombia), Johan Berg (Stockholm, Sweden) and Parker Collins (Newport Beach, Calif.).
Of the four players, Langre and Torres were part of USC's NCAA Championship lineup in 2002 and are eager to return to the spotlight.
Langre played mainly at No. 2 and 3 singles and doubles in 2003, compiling a 17-13 overall record in singles (14-8 in dual matches) and a 30-10 mark in doubles where he found his greatest success (16-9 dual match record). He was selected to compete in the NCAA Doubles Championship with partner Prakash Amritraj. The pair had captured the 2003 Sherwood Cup doubles title in January to begin the year. Paired with Collins, Langre won the Pac-10 Doubles Tournament in April to complete the regular season and become the first Trojan duo to do so since 1995. By the end of the year, Langre earned two final rankings in the ITA doubles poll. He finished at No. 35 with Amritraj and No. 42 with Collins.
Torres competed at No. 4 singles and No. 2 and 3 doubles as a junior, but his season was hampered by injuries. He underwent shoulder surgery in the fall and then was forced to sit out select matches during the spring with a wrist injury. Despite the difficulties, Torres compiled an 11-13 overall singles record and 11-6 doubles record with Berg and Langre.
"Daniel and Ruben have emerged as two very different leaders on this team," said Smith. "Both of them are very good out there. Ruben is always thinking about the team and thinking of ways to make the team better. Then we have Daniel, who always remains very calm and cool and leads by example."
Berg enters his second season at USC after transferring from Pepperdine in 2002. The junior left-hander played at No. 2 singles and alternated at No. 2 and 3 doubles in 2003. He was ranked among the top 125 singles players for much of the season and this year earned the team's top ranking in the ITA preseason poll (No. 35).
Collins, a redshirt senior, who was also a member of the 2002 NCAA Championship squad but did not compete that season, returns following his most successful season at Troy. In 2003, he played as high as No. 4 in the singles lineup and at No. 2 and 3 in doubles. Paired with Langre, he earned his first-ever collegiate ranking by finishing the season at No. 42 in the final ITA doubles poll after the duo captured the Pac-10 Doubles Championship.
One key factor to the Trojans' success will be the addition of two players who were forced to sit out in 2002-03. Adriano Biasella (Rome, Italy) and Brian Wright (Fresno, Calif.) are expected to make large contributions in the Trojan lineup. Both had to sit out last season due to Biasella's NCAA eligibility issues and Wright's injuries.
"Getting Adriano eligible and having Brian healthy are two fantastic additions for us," said Smith. "Add our newcomers to the mix and these additions, then the rest of the players get bumped down two spots, putting us in real good shape."
Biasella's path to joining the Trojan tennis team has been a long one, but worth the wait according to Smith. Having spent one season at NJCAA Division II Vincennes (Ind.) University and, most recently, one season at College of the Desert in Palm Desert, Calif., Biasella has already proven himself as the top junior college player and Division II player in the country. The 2004 season will be his opportunity to also prove himself at the Division I level as he is expected to play at the top of the USC lineup.
Wright, also a 2002 transfer from Pepperdine, underwent knee surgeries to both knees prior to arriving at Troy. Though he joined the team for four preseason doubles tournament matches last year, his injuries were not fully recovered and he was forced to sit out the remainder of the season.
"Jamil was the No. 1 available recruit in the country and I know he will make a real difference on this team," said Smith. "Both he and Adam are the type of players we want to continue bringing to our program. They are both young guys with a lot of potential who want to improve to one day play professionally.
"We also have the benefit of adding Drew to the team. He came as a seasoned player from Texas and has already provided a lot of energy to this team. This fall, he proved he can play at a very high level."
Hoskins comes to USC after spending his first two seasons at Texas. With the Longhorns, he played mainly at No. 3 and 4 singles and No. 2 and 3 doubles, though he saw limited playing time among the top 6 as a sophomore. Based on his successful fall season at Troy, he will definitely be a contributor at the top of the Trojan lineup this season.
As the USTA boys' under-18s No. 1-ranked singles player in 2003, Al-Agba reached the finals of the USTA National Hard Court Championships last summer. He and Loucks are expected to find much success at the collegiate level. Loucks was ranked as high as No. 5 in the Southern California boys' under-16 polls as a prep.
Rounding out the lineup are redshirt freshman Aaron Badart (San Marino, Calif.), redshirt sophomore Jeff Kazarian (Rolling Hills Estates, Calif.), sophomore Whit Livingston (Sacramento, Calif.) and senior Scott Patterson (La Canada, Calif.).
"I think we have a lot to look forward to this season," said Smith. "These players know that at USC we should be competing for a national title every season. For some of these players, winning one ring was special, but winning two would validate their place in USC history."
USC enters the season ranked 21st according to the ITA's preseason polls. As is usually the case, the Pac-10 looks to the nation's strongest conference with five teams ranked among the top 25, including No. 5 Stanford, No. 7 UCLA, No. 11 Washington, No. 12 California and No. 21 USC. Ten other opponents on USC's schedule are also ranked among the top 50, including second-ranked Baylor, No. 8 Duke, No. 13 Texas, No. 27 Pepperdine, No. 36 Fresno State, Pac-10 opponent and 37th-ranked Arizona, No. 42 San Diego, Pac-10 opponent No. 44 Arizona State and No. 48 Tulsa.
USC opens the 2004 dual match season with a pair of home matches on Jan. 24 when it hosts Cal Poly and Fresno State in a Saturday doubleheader. All home matches will be played at USC's David X. Marks Tennis Stadium.
The season concludes with the Pac-10 Individual Championships, April 22-25, in Ojai, Calif., followed by the first and second rounds of the NCAA Championships, May 15-16, at sites to be determined.