1998 USC Men's Tennis Preview
What do you want first - the good news or the bad?
That's the question that aptly sums up the prospects for the 1998 men's tennis team.
"When I think about the upcoming season, it really is a good news-bad news situation," says Dick Leach, who has a 441-98 (.818) record and 3 NCAA team championships in 18 years as the Trojan head coach. "The good news is we lost just one starter off of last year's team (freshman Johannes Mueller, who elected to return to his native Germany) and we have a very experienced group of athletes coming back, including the NCAA runners-up in both singles and doubles. The bad news is that last year's team posted our lowest finish ever."
Perhaps some leeway should be given to the 1997 Trojans, who finished 18-6 overall (6-4 in Pacific-10 Southern Division play for third place) and did not qualify for the NCAA Tournament for the first time since the dual-match format began in 1977. After all, Troy was in the process of rebuilding after losing 5 of 6 starters from the previous year, including 1996 NCAA singles champion Cecil Mamiit, who made a last-minute decision to turn professional right before the start of his sophomore year.
"It was the first time ever that we had lost a freshman to the pros and that was a real setback at the start of the season," says Leach, who will again be assisted by Ryan McKee. "By the end of the year, our new players began to show improvement and we definitely had some bright moments."
One of those bright spots came at the hands of USC's No. 1 player George Bastl, a native of Switzerland who transferred to USC last year from South Florida. Bastl (26-6 overall in 1997, 19-4 in duals), now a senior, earned All-American honors in both singles and doubles after reaching the finals of the NCAA Individual Singles and Doubles Tournaments. Ranked No. 6 in the nation in the preseason singles poll, he and teammate Kyle Spencer are also the nation's top-ranked duo in the 1998 pre-season doubles poll.
The senior Spencer (17-17, 11-12) is another talented player who returns to bolster the Trojan hopes in 1998. A lefthander, he begins his fourth consecutive season as USC's No. 1 doubles player. He has also shown great improvement in his singles play (capturing the 1997 Rolex Southern California Regional singles tournament this past fall) and will play one of the upper lineup spots.
Also returning for Troy in 1998 is sophomore Patrick Gottesleben, a native of Germany who manned USC's No. 2 singles spot last year. Gottesleben (22-5, 20-3), who is ranked No. 32 in the pre-season national singles poll, was named to the 1997 All-Pac-10 first team.
Back for his final season at USC is senior Fernando Samayoa, a 1995 All-American in doubles who played one of the lower lineup spots for Troy in 1997 (18-10, 10-4). He again will contribute in both singles and doubles.
Also expected to see action for the Trojans in 1998 are 3 players who played the lower lineup spots last season: junior Scott Willinski (6-7, 5-6), who is Jamaica's No. 1 player; sophomore Akram Zaman (13-11, 11-10), a native of Australia; and redshirt sophomore Ryan Hollis (4-6, 0-1).
Three newcomers will make an impact at Troy this year: freshman Roman Kukal, the No. 4 junior doubles player in the world who will play in the top third of USC's singles lineup; sophomore Christoph Poehler, a native of Germany who joined the Trojans in January of 1998; and freshman Jordan Walker, who came to USC from Canada.
USC returns 2 of its 3 doubles teams from last year. Besides the aforementioned top-ranked Bastl-Spencer tandem (25-6, 18-4) at No. 1, Troy also features the team of Gottesleben and Zaman (8-2) at No. 2. The third spot will team Samayoa with one of his remaining Trojan teammates.
"We are fortunate to have the NCAA's best doubles team and one of the best singles players in the nation on which to anchor our team this year," says Leach. "Our success as a team will depend upon the performance of the rest of our players.
"Last year, we were one player away from being a contender for the national title. This year, we need one of the players we already have to step up and be that player."
If that happens, that would be good news indeed.