2005 Men's Tennis Season Outlook
Jan. 21, 2005
USC men's tennis is a program rich in tradition and historical success, but last year's team proved that there is always more history to be made.
The 2004 Trojans, coming off the worst season in program history, erased all doubt last year when they climbed their way back to the top of the tennis ranks. The team, led by then-second year head coach Peter Smith, compiled a 23-4 overall record, a 6-1 Pac-10 mark for a share of the conference title (USC's 14th Pac-10 title overall), advanced to the semifinals of the NCAA Tournament and earned a final No. 4 ITA ranking.
"We felt we accomplished great things last season," said Smith, who enters his third year at Troy. "We put the program back where it belongs thanks to a total team effort."
After going 14-12 in 2003, it marked the greatest turnaround in Trojan history. USC climbed from sixth place to first place in the conference in a one-year span. For the accomplishment, Smith was honored as the Pac-10 Coach of the Year - his seventh career conference honor. USC's NCAA semifinal appearance marked the first of Smith's 17-year career.
But last season's victories are now but a page in the history books and it's time for this year's Trojan tennis team to make its own historical mark.
"Our players are driven to maintain USC's position among the country's top teams," said Smith, who boasts a 307-151 (.670) career record. "Every year we set the same goals - go undefeated at home, win a Pac-10 Championship and compete for another national title. I believe we are capable of accomplishing all three goals."
USC returns seven letterwinners and must incorporate five newcomers this season. The majority of the responsibility lies on the returning members of the starting lineup, including sophomore Jamil Al-Agba (Camarillo, Calif.), senior Johan Berg (Stockholm, Sweden) and senior Drew Hoskins (Rossmoor, Calif.). All three earned All-Pac-10 honorable mention honors in 2004.
Al-Agba joined the team in January of 2004 and provided needed depth by competing at the top three positions throughout the season. He played primarily at No. 2 (4-4) and No. 3 (11-3) singles, compiled a 21-9 overall record and finished the year ranked 81st in the ITA. This season he begins the year ranked 86th in the ITA Preseason Poll.
Berg alternated at the Nos. 1 (4-3), 2 (4-5) and 3 (10-0) spots in 2004, finishing the season ranked No. 78 with a 24-14 overall singles record. He also earned a final No. 41 doubles ranking with then-senior Adriano Biasella. Berg was a big factor in the Trojans' NCAA Tournament success, winning four singles matches en route to the semis. He enters this year ranked No. 97 in singles.
Hoskins, who is ranked No. 116 in singles in the preseason poll, was also integral in the Trojans success last season as he compiled one of the team's best singles and doubles records. He earned a 28-8 overall singles mark, a 20-5 record in dual matches and a 9-3 record against Pac-10 opponents, playing primarily at the No. 5 (6-0) and No. 6 (10-3) spots. In doubles, he compiled a 16-5 overall record and was ranked No. 20 in the final ITA rankings with then-senior Daniel Langre.
"It is really important for Jamil, Johan and Drew to continue to step-up their game," said Smith. "They have all made great strides at practice and have been hitting the ball well. We need them to turn these practices into good performances once the dual match season begins."
One key factor to the Trojans' success will be finding comparable replacements for the four vacant positions left behind by last year's seniors - Biasella, Langre, Ruben Torres and Parker Collins. Biasella played No. 1 in 2004 and was ranked 29th at season's end, Langre and Torres carried the Trojans' with great success at the 4 and 5 spots, and Collins and Torres made big contributions at No. 3 doubles.
To fill the roles, USC will look to players such as redshirt junior Brian Wright (Fresno, Calif.), who transferred from Pepperdine in 2002 but has been sidelined with knee and elbow injuries the past two seasons, sophomore Adam Loucks (Irvine, Calif.) and newcomer Kaes Van't Hof (Newport Beach, Calif.), the son of former Trojan tennis great Robert Van't Hof.
"These three players have been working as hard as you could possibly expect to be ready for the start of the season," said Smith. "They are eager to compete, they continue to improve every day and we know that they have what it takes to make outstanding contributions to our lineup."
Van't Hof, who hails from Newport Beach, Calif., and prepped at Mater Dei High in Santa Ana, enjoyed great success at the prep levels. As the 2004 CIF Southern Section Singles Champion, he was named the 2004 Los Angeles Times Player of the Year, Orange County Register Player of the Year and CIF Player of the Year. He was ranked as high as No. 4 nationally (USTA) and No.1 regionally (SCTA) in Boys 18 singles and captured tournament victories such as the 2002 B18 USTA Super National Winter Doubles Championship, 2002 B16 USTA National Open Doubles Championship and 2001 Pasadena Rose Bowl Singles Championship.
Despite playing only five singles matches last season, Loucks earned a No. 59 preseason doubles ranking this year with Hoskins thanks to notable victories this Fall.
The Trojans are deep and talented and expect constant competition at all six singles and doubles positions. Redshirt junior Jeff Kazarian (Rolling Hills Estates, Calif.), who has battled injuries the past two seasons, redshirt sophomore Aaron Badart (San Marino, Calif.), redshirt freshman Bruce Aiken (West Hills, Calif.), as well as junior Whit Livingston (Sacramento, Calif.) and freshman Jarryd Cooper (La Canada, Calif.), will compete to fill the vacated roles.
USC also expects to welcome freshman Dejan Cvetkovic midseason. Cvetkovic hails from Montreal, Canada, where he captured six Canadian National Indoor and Outdoor Championships as a prep. In 2002, he was ranked as high as No. 203 internationally in singles and 230 in doubles. He earned a personal-best No. 605 ATP singles ranking and No. 737 doubles ranking in 2004.
"Our season will depend on the development of our newcomers and the consistent performance of our returners," said Smith. "We have what it takes as long as the players remain healthy and continue to believe in themselves."
The Trojans enter the season ranked eighth nationally according to the ITA's preseason poll and are one of three Pac-10 teams among the top 10, including No. 2 UCLA and No. 7 Stanford. As part of the nation's strongest tennis conference, USC will also have to get past No. 21 Washington, No. 26 Arizona, No. 28 California, No. 31 Arizona State and No. 49 Oregon as it looks to defend its Pac-10 title.
Seven other opponents on USC's schedule are also ranked among the top 50, headlined by top-ranked and defending national champion Baylor which hosts the Trojans in Waco, Texas, on Feb. 3. The other teams include No. 5 Illinois, No. 15 Texas A&M, No. 27 Pepperdine, No. 29 Clemson, No. 36 Texas and No. 71 San Diego State.
USC opens the dual match season with a pair of home matches on Jan. 22 when it hosts San Diego State and Cal Poly 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 Championship, April 21-24, in Ojai, Calif., followed by the first and second rounds of the NCAA Championships, May 14-15, at sites to be determined. The final four rounds of the NCAA Team Championships will be played May 21-24 at a familiar site. Texas A&M - the site of USC's 2002 national title run - will host the 2005 championships in College Station, Texas.