No. 10 USC Men's Tennis Hosts First Pac-12 Match Saturday vs. Utah
The No. 10 Trojans transition to their first Pac-12 clash of the season this week. USC (10-4) will host Utah (10-4) at 3 p.m. on Saturday (March 13) at Marks Stadium.
IN THE RANKINGS
The Trojans opened 2021 ranked No. 1 in the nation — the same spot it wrapped the shortened 2020 season. As of the latest set of Oracle/ITA National Team Rankings (released March 10), USC is ranked No. 10 nation. Individual rankings were set back in January, with the Trojans boasting the #1 singles player in Daniel Cukierman and #1 doubles team of Cukierman and Riley Smith. In all, USC has five ranked singles players — #1 Cukierman, #19 Smith, #26 Mor Bulis, #79 Ryder Jackson and #104 Stefan Dostanic. In doubles, USC has two ranked pairs — #1 Cukierman/R. Smith and #50 Bulis/Dostanic.
BEATING THE BRUINS
In position for his first match-clinching victory of the year, junior Jake Sands showed no fear. Rather, he calmly claimed his crown as the hero of the day as he turned the tide for No. 9 USC from court six, closing out a three-set comeback to notch a 4-3 victory for the Trojans over crosstown rival No. 17 UCLA at Los Angeles Tennis Center. USC had led it 2-0 before the Bruins stole into the lead, leaving it up to Sands and freshman Lodewijk Weststrate to pull off three-set battles if the Trojans were to pull out the rivalry win. After USC claimed the double point, UCLA captured the first sets on all but one court in singles. At the No. 4 spot, USC's Bradley Frye sizzled his way to a 6-2, 6-3 win over UCLA's #109 Sam Feit to pin a 2-0 lead on the board for the Trojans. But USC still had a good amount of singles ground to make up in order to bring home a win with first-set deficits to overcome on the other five courts. That pressure cranked up further when UCLA captured straight-set wins on the top two courts to tie things up 2-2. At the No. 2 spot, Drew Baird beat USC's #19 Riley Smith 6-3, 6-4 just before #10 Keegan Smith topped USC's #1 Daniel Cukierman 6-2, 7-5 at the top spot. UCLA would capture a third straight singles win to go ahead 3-2 when Ben Goldberg pushed past USC's #26 Mor Bulis for a 7-6 (5), 6-2 decision on court three.That left two Trojans aiming for third sets to get USC a shot at victory. On court five, USC freshman Lodewijk Weststrate battled back against Roscoe Bellamy to force a third set there. And while Weststrate was charging through his third set, teammate Jake Sands forced a third of his own on court six to keep USC alive. Weststrate's full-court press in the third drew the Trojans back even with a 5-7, 6-4, 6-0 comeback effort to beat Bellamy. That left Sands starting up his third set against Patrick Zahraj in the No. 6 slot to decide things. With all eyes on his court, Sands didn't flinch. The junior rallied out ahead of Zahraj 5-2 in the third, surrendered one more game and then closed things down in Westwood with his 5-7, 7-5, 6-3 clincher for the Trojan cause. The win was USC's second over UCLA this season, following a 4-1 win over the Bruins during ITA Kickoff Weekend action last month.
USC was tagged with a rare home loss last week when visiting No. 27 Pepperdine gutted out a tight battle at Marks Stadium to beat the Trojans 4-3. The Waves grabbed the doubles point and later earned two comeback three-set wins to claim victory over host USC. The Waves crashed the Trojans' doubles party by snagging wins on courts three and one. In singles, USC's Bradley Frye and Lodewijk Weststrate pushed the hosts into the lead, 2-1, on decisive wins on courts two and four, respectively. In his USC debut at the No. 2 position, Frye looked plenty comfortable as he ripped his way to a 6-0, 6-4 win over Guy Den Ouden to level things early. Weststrate hopped to next, dispatching Pepperdine's #90 Corrado Summaria 6-0 6-3, and USC was up 2-1. Pepperdine would nab a straight-set win on court six next, however, as Pietro Fellin felled USC freshman Sean Holt 6-3, 6-3 to snarl it up 2-2. As three-setters raged on courts three and five, USC's #19 Riley Smith gave USC a lift with a 7-6 (3), 7-6 (5) win on court one over Adrian Oetzbach, netting a 3-2 USC lead. But was short-lived, as #19 Mor Bulis took a 4-6, 6-3, 6-3 loss to Daniel De Jonge on court three, and it was locked up a 3-3. That turned all eyes onto court five, where USC's Jake Sands was looking to notch a comeback against Robert Shelton. Sands had forced a third, but Shelton dug back in and closed out the win over USC with a 7-6 (7), 5-7, 6-3 decision.
The Utes enter the week with a 10-4 overall record after beating Utah State 4-0 and Montana 5-0 in their most recent competition. Utah will face UCLA on Friday before coming to take on the Trojans. The Utes have no players ranked nationally in singles or doubles. In a series dating back to 1962, USC is 35-1 all-time against Utah. The teams did not get to face off last year due to the cancellation of all competition in March. The last meeting was in 2019, with USC beating Utah 4-2 in Salt Lake City.
BY THE NUMBERS
USC's winningest player to date is newcomer Lodewijk Weststrate, who has churned out 15 singles wins in his freshman campaign as a Trojan so far. Next in line with 10 singles wins is Stefan Dostanic, and Riley Smith has collected nine. In doubles, USC's top pairs have gone a combined 14-1 in dual-match play. Top-ranked Daniel Cukierman and Riley Smith are currently 8-1 at the No. 1 spot on the year, while Stefan Dostanic and Bradley Frye boast a 6-0 mark to date from court two.
STARTING ON TOP
USC entered the new year with authority, boasting a sweep of the first ITA national rankings as the No. 1 team with the No. 1 singles player and No. 1 doubles pair. As the Trojans prepared to start up their 2021 campaign, USC head coach Brett Masi had his team at the top, while senior Daniel Cukierman stood tall as the nation's No. 1 singles player while also pairing up with returning senior Riley Smith for the No. 1 doubles rank. When 2020 competition was suspended back in March due to the coronavirus pandemic, USC was coming off a big victory at the ITA National Team Indoor Championships. The Trojans were No. 1 in the nation, and Cukierman was the No. 1 singles player.
CUKIERMAN CATCHES PAC-12 HONORS
Senior Daniel Cukierman picked up the first weekly prize of the year from the Pac-12 in securing his third career selection as Pac-12 Player of the Week on Feb. 4. Cukierman was perfect in singles and doubles as the Trojans tallied two dual-match wins to improve to 3-0 on the year. Most notably, top-ranked Cukierman came through with a three-set comeback win in singles to beat UCLA's #10 Keegan Smith in the ITA Kickoff Weekend championship match, clinching victory for the Trojans to punch up USC's 13th straight title at the event and ensuring USC would make a 13th straight trip to ITA National Team Indoor Championship. USC won the national title at that event last year. Also against the Bruins, Cukierman paired with fellow senior Riley Smith — together ranked as the No. 1 doubles team in the nation — for a win on court one before coming through with the singles clincher later. Later in the week, USC took on LMU and served up a sweep of the Lions thanks in part to wins from Cukierman in doubles and singles again.
DOSTANIC DRAWS FIRST PAC-12 PICK
USC sophomore Stefan Dostanic snagged his first Pac-12 Player of the Week honors on February 23 after another smooth doubles win and a singles victory for the Trojans. He's the second USC player to win the award this season, joining Daniel Cukierman as an honoree. This week, Dostanic came up with the first doubles and singles wins of the day for the No. 8 Trojans in their 4-0 victory over visiting No. 14 Oklahoma State. Dostanic and doubles partner Bradley Frye stayed perfect in doubles action with their 6-2 win at the No. 2 spot to get USC off on a winning note against the Cowboys. Ranked No. 104 in the nation in singles, Dostanic later topped Oklahoma State's No. 86 Henrik Korsgaard in straight sets 6-1, 6-3 to make it a 2-0 Trojan lead en route to USC's sweep at Marks Stadium. Dostanic has lost just one doubles match and two singles matches this season.
The coronavirus pandemic put a stop to activities around the world, including all NCAA competition. When the 2020 season was suspended, the USC men's tennis team was standing tall as the top-ranked team in the nation for the fifth consecutive week — the Trojans' longest run at No. 1 since 2012. At 13-1 overall and recently crowned as the ITA National Indoor Champions, USC was looking like a solid frontrunner for the 2020 NCAA Championship under the direction of first-year head coach Brett Masi. Masi had taken over the reins of the Trojan tennis program in August 2019, leading a talented USC roster that featured a strong blend of veterans and youth. Senior All-Americans Brandon Holt and Riley Smith were joined by former team manager Rae Lan to round out USC's 2020 senior class. The savvy Daniel Cukierman stood tall as USC's lone junior on the roster, and he'd work his way to rank No. 1 in the nation in singles by the close of competition. USC's sophomore class featured Mor Bulis, Bradley Frye and Jake Sands, who were all coming off of solid first seasons as Trojans. Bulis shined particularly bright in the fall and cracked the top-10 singles rankings at No. 9 in the land at the same time that his fellow Israeli teammate Cukierman stepped to No. 1. USC's two newcomers were feisty freshmen Stefan Dostanic and Ryder Jackson. Both would show their mettle in the fall, and both became mainstays in the dual-match lineup that saw the Trojans take over the nation. •