No. 12 USC Men Open NCAA Action At Home, Face UCSB Friday
May 7, 2007
TEAM PLAY: After a powerful regular season in which the USC men's tennis team went undefeated on their home courts of Marks Stadium, the Trojans now turn to host the opening rounds of the NCAA Division I Men's Tennis Championships from May 11-12. USC earned the No. 12 seed into this year's NCAA action with a 20-2 overall record, and will open against UC Santa Barbara in the first round on Friday, May 11. Also visiting Marks Stadium will be Pepperdine and Penn State, who will open the day with a 1 p.m. first-round match. USC and UC Santa Barbara are tentatively scheduled to face at 4 p.m. The winners of those Friday matches will advance to the second round for a 3 p.m. match on Saturday (May 12). UC Santa Barbara (6-18) enters the NCAA Championships as the automatic qualifier out of the Big West Conference. Pepperdine (22-7) also qualifies automatically as the West Coast Conference champion. Penn State (16-6) is an at-large selection. The winner of each opening site advances to the NCAA Division I Men's Tennis Championships at Dan Magill Tennis Complex in Athens, Georgia, hosted by the University of Georgia May 17-22.
SINGLES SCENE: Two USC men -- seniors Jamil Al-Agba and Dejan Cvetkovic -- have been selected to compete in the NCAA Singles Championships, to be held May 23-28 in Athens, Ga. A third Trojan, junior Kaes Van't Hof, has been named an alternate for the men's competition. Al-Agba and Cvetkovic have both secured at-large slots in the NCAA Men's Singles Championships. Van't Hof stands as the fifth of seven alternates listed for the tournament. For Al-Agba, this 2007 trip will be his second NCAA singles appearance in his four-year career at Troy. He reached the second round as a sophomore in 2005 and enters this season's postseason with an 18-9 overall record and is ranked No. 36 in the latest ITA singles rankings. In his second and final season playing for USC, Cvetkovic will be making his first appearance in the NCAA singles draw. Ranked No. 52 nationally, Cvetkovic holds an 18-12 overall singles record. Should Van't Hof be included in the NCAA competition, it would be the first trip to the NCAA singles action for the No. 63-ranked junior. Van't Hof holds the best singles winning percentage on the team with a 30-5 overall record. He and Cvetkovic both reached the Pac-10 Singles quarterfinals last week in Ojai, Calif.
ITA RANKING UPDATES: USC has taken near 40 steps forward in the ITA team rankings during this season, jumping from a #43 start to the season to hold its highest ranking at #4 for the week of March 13 -- USC's highest rank since the close of the 2004 season. Despite only two losses this year to top-ranked Georgia and the owner of four-straight Pac-10 championships UCLA, the Trojans are now ranked #12 in the latest ITA team rankings (released April 30). The latest individual rankings of the season (as of April 30) has Jamil Al-Agba at #36, Dejan Cvetkovic at #52 and Kaes Van't Hof at #63 in singles. Robert Farah / Kaes Van't Hof rank #43.
NCAA NOTES: This is USC's 29th appearance in the NCAA Tournament. The Trojans missed a 2006 trip to the postseason, but USC had made eight straight appearances from 1998-2005. The last NCAA team title came in 2002 for the Trojans. All told, USC has won 16 national championships as a team and holds a 56-27 overall record in the NCAA Tournament. On the singles side, USC has had 11 different athletes win NCAA Singles crowns. Two Trojans won the title twice, giving Troy 13 singles championships. Cecil Mammit was the last Trojan champion, as he won the NCAA title in 1996.
ON THE RISE: The Trojans have put forth an outstanding turnaround from last season to this year's NCAA run. After finishing 8-14 overall last year, USC missed a place in the postseason for the first time since 1997. This season, however, USC opened up 2007 with the best season start (11-0) since 1988. Its only losses since then have come to top-seeded Georgia (26-0) and Pac-10 champion UCLA (19-3). USC's turnaround from #54 (8-14, .570) at the close of 2006 to current 2007 mark of #10 (20-2, .910) is in fact the greatest in USC history, as it marks a 167% improvement and a 44-place rankings jump.
HOME-COURT ADVANTAGE: USC's home schedule this season was a good one. The Trojans opened 2007 with eight straight home matches, and played four of their seven Pac-10-counting matches within the familiar spread of Marks Stadium. By the end of the home stretch -- capped April 7 -- USC raged undefeated with a 15-0 regular-season mark at home. On the road, USC holds a 5-2 dual match record.
WINS OF CHANGE: After a frustrating 2006 season in which the Trojans failed to reach the NCAA Championships and suffered through nine tight 4-3 losses, USC kicked 2007 off to a much stronger start with a heap of tallies in the win columns across the board and an undefeated 11-0 record -- the Trojans' best season start since 1988 -- until facing top-ranked Georgia on the road. Every player lined up for NCAA competition boasts a singles mark of at least .500. Freshman Jason McNaughton leads the way with 31 wins, closely followed by junior Kaes Van't Hof with 30. Freshman Gary Sacks recently broke through the 20-win mark to hold 21 victories. Next in line in the winning effort are seniors Jamil Al-Agba and Dejan Cvetkovic and freshman Robert Farah with 18 apiece. USC dropped just 29 singles points during dual match play -- while winning 102 through its regular-season finale -- and is 55-11 on the doubles scene in dual matches (19-2 in Pac-10).
DOUBLES TROUBLE: The Trojans doubles teams have been dominant this year. In USC's 22 dual matches, the Trojans have surrendered the doubles point only twice (at San Diego and at Georgia). And throughout USC's run to second place in the Pac-10, the Trojans never lost the doubles point during their conference dual matches.
BATTLE-TESTED: In September 2006, head coach Peter Smith took his USC players to Camp Pendleton, engaging in two days of basic training drills alongside the U.S. Marines. In addition to a commitment to conditioning, the Trojans took away a sense of teamwork and focus that Smith hopes translates into a long winning season for his USC squad.
ON THE KAES: Junior Kaes Van't Hof earned his first career Pac-10 Player of the Week award after clinching USC's 5-2 win over #44 Fresno State and then winning again at the No. 2 position against #18 Boise State on Feb. 10 to help improve USC's winning streak to seven straight. With a pair of doubles wins as well from the No. 2 slot, Van't Hof won his sixth straight match with teammate Robert Farah with a comeback victory, fighting back from 4-7 to win 9-7 and clinch the doubles point against #18 Boise State.
DEJAN GETS IT DONE: Senior Dejan Cvetkovic became the second Trojan to win a Pac-10 Player of the Week award this season after tacking up two more singles wins and remaining undefeated in doubles play with Jamil Al-Agba to help lift USC to its best season start since 1991. Cvetkovic secured the doubles point against Texas A&M with a tight 9-7 win to remain undefeated at the No. 1 slot with Al-Agba before winning his singles match to keep USC moving toward victory. Against San Diego, Cvetkovic had the clinching singles win, pulling out a 7-6 (5), 6-3 win. He now has won the honor twice in his career at Troy.
TAKE TWO: Kaes Van't Hof didn't leave much doubt about capturing a second Pac-10 Player of the Week award. After a doubles sweep and two three-set singles victories that both clinched dual match wins for the Trojans in a 4-3 win over #17 Rice and a 6-1 win over #6 UCLA on March 9, Van't Hof was the weekly winner once again. The wins put Van't Hof on a 10-match winning streak in singles play, holding him undefeated in dual match action, and secured an 11-match winning streak for the Trojans as a team.
SUDDEN IMPACT: Three USC freshmen -- Robert Farah, Jason McNaughton and Gary Sacks -- have jumped right into their roles at Troy, garnering big wins for the Trojans in 2007. Farah and McNaughton have been in the lineup for 20 of USC's 21 dual matches. Farah holds a 16-5 dual match record (17-6 overall), and McNaughton is 19-2 in dual matches (28-7 overall). Sacks has appeared in 17 dual matches and held an 11-match winning tear before suffering just his second dual match singles loss, now standing with a 14-3 dual match mark and a 20-7 overall record. Combined, the three freshmen have garnered a 49-9 record (.845) for USC in dual matches.
ON SMITH'S WATCH: Peter Smith, the 2004 Pac-10 Coach of the Year, enters his fifth season as head coach of the Trojan men's tennis program. He has compiled a 327-178 (.648) career coaching record and is 57-43 (.570) at USC. After five years at Pepperdine, Smith came to Troy and extended his streak of sending teams to the NCAA Tournament to 12 consecutive seasons, as the Trojans reached the NCAA Second Round in his first season, the semifinals in 2004, and the second round again in 2005. Smith is the only men's tennis coach ever to lead four different men's programs to national top-25 rankings and is one of only two coaches to guide three different schools to the NCAA quarterfinals and top-5 national rankings (USC, Pepperdine and Fresno State). In 2004, Smith enjoyed one of the greatest seasons of his career, leading USC to the NCAA Semifinals and a No. 4 final ITA ranking. That year, USC went 23-4 overall and 6-1 in the Pac-10 to claim a share of the conference title -- USC's 14th title overall (first since 1994) and the seventh conference championship of his career.
NCAA Opponent Information
ABOUT UC SANTA BARBARA: UCSB (6-18) earned an automatic bid into the NCAA Tournament after emerging as the team champion out of the Big West Conference. It will be the Gauchos second straight trip to the NCAA action as the Big West Tournament champ and seventh overall appearance. After struggling with injuries throughout the season, UCSB came through to claim its fourth Big West crown in six years, and brings a 6-18 overall record into the NCAA Team Championships. Philip Therp has earned a spot in the NCAA Singles Championships after being named the Big West Freshman of the Year and is ranked #125 in the ITA singles rankings. Jack Hui holds UCSB's strongest singles record at 11-5, and Therp is next at 10-6. Last year, the Gauchos fell 4-0 to California in the NCAA First Round.
USC VS. UCSB: USC is 25-1 all-time against UC Santa Barbara in a series that began in 1929. The teams last clashed in 2006, when the Trojans posted a 6-1 win over the Gauchos.
TROJANS VS. OTHER FIRST-ROUND TEAMS AT USC:
Penn State -- USC has never competed against Penn State. The Nittany Lions are ranked #42 as a team and have #90 Michael James ranked in singles.