Pac-10 Title Up For Grabs: No. 9 USC Men Visit No. 10 UCLA
April 17, 2007
THIS WEEK: No. 9 USC has one last match with defending Pac-10 champ UCLA standing between the Trojans and an undefeated Pac-10 season. Now with nine straight wins, USC (20-1, 6-0 Pac-10) pays a visit to the Los Angeles Tennis Center to square off against the No. 10 Bruins (17-3, 6-0) at 1:30 p.m. on Friday (April 20) in a battle that will determine the winner of the 2007 Pac-10 crown. The last time USC posted an undefeated conference season was in 1987. If the Trojans can grab a win over the Bruins, it would mark USC's first outright Pac-10 title since 1994. USC shared the title in 2004 with a 6-1 Pac-10 record.
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 one loss this year to top-ranked Georgia, the Trojans are now ranked #9 in the latest ITA team rankings (released April 17). The latest individual rankings of the season (as of April 3) has Jamil Al-Agba at #34, Dejan Cvetkovic at #51 and Kaes Van't Hof at #96 in singles. Dejan Cvetkovic / Gary Sacks have moved up in the doubles ratings to rank #43.
USC VS. UCLA: USC is 80-92 all-time against the Bruins after upsetting then-No. 6 UCLA 6-1 in their nonconference face-off earlier this season. #10 UCLA is 17-3 overall and 6-0 in the Pac-10 and has #4 Benjamin Kohlloeffel, #29 Haythem Abid and #48 Chris Surapol ranked in singles and #7 Gruendler/Kohlloeffel ranked in doubles. Kohlloeffel won the NCAA singles title last season.
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 last weekend -- USC raged undefeated with a 15-0 regular-season mark at home. On the road, USC holds a 5-1 record with one more regular-season road match to go.
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 boasts a singles mark of at least .500. Junior Kaes Van't Hof and freshman Jason McNaughton lead the way with 27 wins apiece, and freshman Gary Sacks also just hit the 20-win mark. Next in line in the winning effort are seniors Jamil Al-Agba (18) and Dejan Cvetkovic (16), as well as freshman Robert Farah (17). USC has dropped just 25 singles points during dual match play -- while winning an even 100 on the way into this week's regular-season finale -- and is 53-10 on the doubles scene in dual matches (17-1 in Pac-10).
BATTLE-TESTED: In September 2006, head coach Peter Smith took his USC players to Camp Pendleton, to take on 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 16-4 dual match record (17-5 overall), and McNaughton is 18-2 in dual matches (27-7 overall). Sacks has appeared in 16 dual matches and held an 11-match winning tear before suffering just his second dual match singles loss to stand with a 14-2 dual match mark and a 20-6 overall record. Combined, the three freshmen have garnered a 48-7 record (.873) 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.