Men's Tennis
    USC Men Prepped for Pac-10 Championships
    Trojan head coach Peter Smith has seven players drawn up for action in Ojai.
    Trojan head coach Peter Smith has seven players drawn up for action in Ojai.

    April 27, 2011

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    The newly crowned Pac-10 team champion USC men's tennis team takes a turn in individual action this week at the coming 2011 Pac-10 Championships, held annually in Ojai, Calif. The battle for conference singles and doubles championships kicks off April 28 with title matches set for May 1.


    The latest 2011 Campbell/ITA national rankings were released April 26, with the back-to-back national champs ranked No. 2 in the nation. New individual rankings also were released April 26, with four Trojans ranked in the top-50 in singles and three doubles teams in the mix. Steve Johnson remains at the head of the pack as the nation's #1 singles player -- a spot he also held a year ago. Senior captain Jaak Poldma is next in line at #38 in singles ahead of two more Trojans: #43 Daniel Nguyen and #56 Ray Sarmiento. In doubles, USC's ranked teams are #25 Poldma/Sundling, #34 Johnson/Sarmiento and #83 Johnson/Nguyen.

    USC's 4-3 win over rival UCLA last week in the conference finale wrapped up an undefeated Pac-10 season for the Trojans. That perfect 6-0 finish was the first for USC since 1987. Almost equally significant was the fact that the win snapped a six-year skid of the Trojans falling to the Bruins in their annual Pac-10 match. It's USC's third Pac-10 title in the past four seasons, but the first outright championship in that stretch. Overall, USC has now claimed 32 Pac-10 titles -- shared and solo combined.

    PAC-10 PLAN
    The USC men have seven Trojans heading out to Ojai this week for Pac-10 action. USC has won two of the past three singles crowns (Kaes Van't Hof in 2008 and Robert Farah in 2010). Steve Johnson reached the singles final in 2009 but did not play in the singles tourney in 2010. Johnson did, however, opt into doubles play last year and went on to win the doubles championships along with Farah. Johnson will carry a 20-match win streak into his 2011 Pac-10 Championship campaign and is the top seed in the Championship singles bracket. Picking up No. 5 seeds are Daniel Nguyen and Ray Sarmiento, with Emilio Gomez and Peter Lucassen also clocked in for Championship singles play. In the Invitational singles bracket are two more Trojans, Michael Grant and JT Sundling, who won the bracket's title last season as a freshman. In doubles action, Johnson and Sarmiento are teamed up as the No. 2 seed in the Championship doubles bracket, and Grant and Lucassen are paried up on the Invitational side.

    A look at the returning Trojans' runs at last year's Pac-10 Championships:
    Daniel Nguyen -- reached singles semifinals (lost to Stanford's Bradley Klahn 6-3, 5-7, 7-3
    Peter Lucassen -- reached singles quarterfinals
    JT Sundling -- won singles invitational championships (def. UCLA's Alex Brigham 7-5, 7-6
    Nguyen/Sundling -- reached doubles quarterfinals
    Lucassen/Poldma -- competed in doubles first round

    USC wrapped up the regular season with a 14-game win streak -- the first time since 2002 that the back-to-back national champs Trojans will enter the NCAA Tournament with a win in their final regular-season dual match. As a reminder, USC did, in fact, go on to win the 2002 NCAA Team Championship. To put together this year's winning note, the Trojans began the week with a 7-0 sweep of UC Irvine in nonconference action before heading across town to take on UCLA in their Pac-10 showdown. USC never trailed the Bruins but also never enjoyed any real breathing room in the match. USC freshmen Ray Sarmiento and Emilio Gomez came through with comeback singles wins for the Trojans to lock down the win in a tense and tight battle at UCLA's Los Angeles Tennis Center. The Bruins had locked up the match 2-2, but the Trojan newcomers turned the tide on their hosts. After falling in the first set to Adrien Puget, #85 Ray Sarmiento fought out of a 2-4 hole in the second to win the second, then rode that momentum to a powerful third set that pulled USC back ahead 3-2 with his 2-6, 6-4, 6-2 comeback on court four. His fellow freshman was right next door at court five, and Emilio Gomez would come up with the clincher. He had taken a 2-6 loss to Holden Seguso in the first set before getting his grip in the second. On serve down the line in the third, the match was looking to be still up in the air until Gomez brought things back down to earth with a late break that wrapped up a 2-6, 6-3, 6-4 comeback that went along with USC's doubles point victory and a singles win from Steve Johnson to locked down the match for the Trojans.

    Not only did the Trojans dominate team play in the Pac-10 this season, the individual awards list also is weighed heavily in USC's favor. The Trojans claimed eight Pac-10 Player of the Week awards on the year, spreading the wealth among five different players who put together dominating weeks for USC. Jaak Poldma, Steve Johnson and Ray Sarmiento each picked up the honor on two different occasions, joined by Emilio Gomez and Peter Lucassen's first career Player of the Week awards this year.

    Senior captain Jaak Poldma is on a roll in his senior season. He holds a near-flawless 19-1 mark in dual-match singles play and currently sits at #38 in the nation. His 29-4 overall singles record is second only to top-ranked teammate Steve Johnson's 32-win tally. Playing largely at the No. 2 singles slot, Poldma beat 12 ranked players during a streak of 19 straight singles victories. He's on the board in doubles as well, ranked #25 with sophomore JT Sundling as the pair is 15-4 in dual match doubles and 21-5 overall.

    Junior #1 Steve Johnson now holds a 33-3 overall singles record, including a current 20-match winning streak over some of the country's stiffest competition to remain atop the latest ITA/Campbell National Rankings as the No. 1 player in men's collegiate tennis. Johnson came into the spring ranked #6 overall and his move to #1 puts him back in the top slot that he also held during parts of the 2010 season. Johnson's three losses have come against the country's current #5, #9, and #11 players. Since the start of the spring slate, Johnson has gone 24-1 in singles play and compiled wins in his last 20 matches. During his win streak, Johnson has secured wins over eight top-20 players, including two impressive straight-set victories over Pac-10 rival Bradley Klahn of Stanford to avenge the Trojan's only spring loss.

    Freshman Ray Sarmiento pinned up two big straight-set wins in USC victories over No. 8 Stanford and No. 12 Cal to record his first Pac-10 Player of the Week award. Now with his second selection under his cap, he's ranked #56 in the nation and holds an eight-match win streak for a 28-7 overall record and 17-2 dual-match mark.

    In just his second week of competition with the Trojans, freshman Emilio Gomez earned his first selection as Pac-10 Player of the Week. Gomez hit his stride in picking up three doubles and three singles victories in a winning week of action for USC. He fell in his first set as a Trojan during USC's midweek clash with No. 27 Florida State, but lost just six games in the next six sets played. Gomez opened his USC career with a 4-0 singles mark and a 5-0 run in doubles with Daniel Nguyen. The first Trojan to win the weekly award this season. He's now 18-4 in singles and 9-6 in doubles with Nguyen.

    USC took its first and only losses of the year and first back-to-back defeats since 2008 with two tight losses at the ITA National Team Indoor Championships in Seattle. The Trojans were edged out 4-3 by No. 17 Duke first, and then fell by the same score to No. 7 Stanford. USC rebounded on day three of the competition, however, and pounded its way to a 4-0 shutout of No. 12 Louisville to wrap things up. Steve Johnson and Jaak Poldma were the lone Trojans to win all three of their singles matches out in Seattle, and Poldma and JT Sundling were victorious all the way through on the doubles courts as well. Since that bump in the road, USC has won 14 consecutive matches to put the Trojans on a path to the Pac-10 title and a high seed in the coming NCAA Tournament.

    USC gathered up some good wins in its 2011 kickoff at the Sherwood Collegiate Cup, with Steve Johnson reaching the singles title match while his Trojan teammates managed to sweep the consolation crowns. JT Sundling rebounded from an opening loss to work his way to the consolation singles title, while Daniel Nguyen and Peter Lucassen replicated that effort on the consolation doubles courts.

    This year, half the USC ladder knows what it takes to win two NCAA Championships, and five players return from the 2010 title-winning team. Senior Jaak Poldma and juniors Steve Johnson and Daniel Nguyen each hold a pair of national championship rings. Senior Peter Lucassen and sophomore JT Sundling picked up their first last year, when USC finished as champs with a 25-3 overall record after taking second in the Pac-10 at 5-1. Altogether, it's a pool of experience that USC head coach and 2010 ITA National Coach of the Year Peter Smith believes can make a real run at defending the Trojans' back-to-back titles.

    Captain Jaak Poldma is the resident veteran of the team as he entered his fourth season as a Trojan ranked #94 on the singles scene. He had an extremely successful fall season in winning the Southern California Intercollegiate singles title as well as the doubles crown alongside teammate JT Sundling. Sundling and Poldma remain USC's winningest doubles duo with a 21-5 overall record and a 15-4 mark in dual match action.

    As the nation's No. 6 ranked singles player, junior Steve Johnson is an easy fit back into the No. 1 singles position for the Trojans, with Jaak Poldma and Daniel Nguyen already proven winners and Peter Lucassen and JT Sundling also having gleaned plenty of winning experience after a year as Trojans. Added to the formula for this season are three new freshmen -- Michael Grant, Ray Sarmiento and Corey Smith. Grant and Sarmiento had strong fall seasons, with Sarmiento factoring in quickly as a doubles gun as well. Newcomer Emilio Gomez also enters the picture this season in coming to Troy from Ecuador this spring.

    The early ITA national rankings already reflected a Trojan dominance in the 2011 picture. USC opened the spring ranked No. 2 in the nation as a team, just behind top-ranked Virginia. The Cavaliers were the top-seeded team in both the 2009 and 2010 NCAA tournaments, and USC served up an upset win over UVA both years en route to claiming its consecutive crowns. Individually, five Trojans started the year ranked in the ITA top-100 on the singles sheet.