No. 12 USC Men’s Tennis Ramps Up For NCAA Round of 16 In Orlando
The No. 12 Trojans are all settled in Orlando, Fla., with eyes on a run to a 22nd NCAA Championship. The road to the title this year includes a Round of 16 bout with No. 5 seed Virginia, which USC is due to face on Monday (May 17). The Trojans (22-6) and the Cavaliers (23-2) will do battle at 4 p.m. ET at the USTA National Campus, where the entirety of the NCAA Team and Individual tournaments are being held this year. This Monday's Round of 16 clash — USC's 14th straight appearance in this round — will be the first NCAA meeting between USC and Virginia since the Trojans beat the Cavaliers 5-1 in the 2014 NCAA Semifinals en route to USC's 21st national championship.
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 Computer Rankings (released May 5), USC is ranked at No. 12 in the nation. On April 28, the ITA released its third Coaches Poll, which had USC at No. 12 in the nation. Oracle/ITA individual rankings were released on May 5, with four Trojans ranked in singles: #49 Daniel Cukierman, -#52 Riley Smith, #112 Mor Bulis and #116 Stefan Dostanic. In doubles, USC has Cukierman/R. Smith now ranked at #10 in the land.
USC is making its 14th consecutive trip to the NCAA Tournament, and 42nd overall appearance after last year's postseason was not played after the suspension of all competition in March due to the coronavirus pandemic. Now carrying a 22-6 overall record into the Round of 16, the No. 12-seeded Trojans have extended their stretch of reaching at least the NCAA Round of 16 in the past 14 tournaments held. With five NCAA crowns claimed since 2009, USC continues to lead the nation with 21 national championships all-time, and holds a 107-36 overall record in the NCAA Tournament. USC was a No. 8 seed in 2019 in a run to the NCAA Round of 16. During USC's current 14-year run of NCAA appearances, USC has been seeded No. 1 (2012 & 2014), No. 2 (2011), No. 4 (2013 & 2017), No. 5 (2010), No. 7 (2015), No. 8 (2009 & 2019), No. 10 (2016 & 2018) and No. 12 (2007 & 2021) — with NCAA titles captured in 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012 and 2014. USC head coach Masi was an assistant coach for the Trojans in the 2009 championship run before departing for a head coaching opportunity, so he is particularly eager to lead his Trojans in this NCAA opportunity. In fact, USC's entire coaching staff knows what it takes to win it all. Associate head coach Kris Kwinta was on staff for USC's 2014 title and also won the 2005 NCAA championship as a player at UCLA. And volunteer assistant coach Ray Sarmiento was a member of USC's 2011, 2012 and 2014 NCAA Championship squads.
TROJANS TO DATE
USC secured its place in the 2021 NCAA Tournament as an automatic qualifier after its dominating run to the Pac-12 Tournament Championship. The title was the second straight conference crown and fifth overall for the Trojans and improved their record to 20-6 overall. In the last NCAA tourney, USC was a No. 8 seed and reached the 2019 NCAA Round of 16. This time, USC head coach Brett Masi is looking to make a deeper run in his first NCAA appearance as head coach of the Trojans, having taken over the program in May 2019. Ranked No. 12 in the nation in the latest poll, 12th-seeded USC has a roster replete with talent primed for postseason success. With momentum gained from the Pac-12 Championship, USC also boasts four ranked singles players as well as a top-10 doubles duo.
The No. 5 ranked and seeded Cavaliers are 23-2 overall after a 4-0 win over Fairleigh Dickinson in the NCAA First Round and a 4-2 win over Stanford in the Second Round to reach the Round of 16. Virginia carries a 17-match win streak into the match with USC, and the Cavaliers have made 17 straight NCAA Tournament appearances. Virginia has four ranked singles players: #7 Carl Soderlund, #44 Jeffrey Von Der Schulenburg, #61 Inaki Montes and #106 Ryan Goetz. In doubles UVA has #14 Soderlund/Woodall, #62 Rodesh/Woodall and #89 Goetz/Rodesch. USC is 6-4 all-time against Virginia with the last meeting coming in the 2019 National Team Indoors consolation match, where the Cavaliers beat the Trojans 4-0. The most recent NCAA meeting between the two programs was in the 2014 NCAA Semifinals, where the Trojans beat the Cavaliers 5-1 en route to winning the 2014 national championship.
USC worked its way to its second straight Pac-12 Tournament title after a strong showing in the tournament's first appearance in San Diego. The No. 3 seed in the tourney, USC cruised past No. 6 seeded Oregon 4-1 in the quarterfinals to get to the semifinals for the ninth consecutive time. Against the Ducks, USC snagged a speedy doubles point and then pressed on to claim three straight-set singes victories on wins from Lodewijk Weststrate, Stefan Dostanic and Daniel Cukierman. In the semis vs. No. 2 seed Arizona, avenging an earlier loss to the Wildcats in Tucson. Again, the Trojans whipped up the doubles point and then saw Cukierman and Dostanic register singles wins before Bradley Frye came through with the clincher. In the title match for the eighth time, USC saw the doubles point slip, but regrouped in singles and had the bottom of its lineup surge to straight-set wins with Dostanic victorious again in picking up the clincher to get USC the title, the ticket to NCAA action and another 20-win season.
NCAA INDIVIDUAL ACTION
USC will be well represented in the upcoming NCAA Singles and Doubles draws, with captains Daniel Cukierman and Riley Smith playing out their final seasons as Trojans with spots in NCAA individual action. Both have secured places in the 64-player NCAA Singles draw, while also combining forces as automatic qualifiers together for the 32-team NCAA Doubles competition coming up in Orlando, Fla., later this month. Cukierman also is an automatic qualifier as the Pac-12's top singles player as he makes his second career journey into the NCAA Singles draw. As a former top-ranked singles player, Cukierman's hopes are high for a shot at winning it all. A 2019 ITA All-American in singles, he reached the Round of 32 as a sophomore. This season, he carried a 14-5 overall record into NCAA Team competition last weekend, where he reigns as USC's top gun in dual-match play and has clinched a team-high five matches. Super senior Smith will be making his NCAA Singles debut in fifth year as a Trojan with this year's selection to the draw. A mainstay at the No. 2 singles slot for the Trojans, Smith has held a career-high singles ranking of No. 14 during this 2021 campaign. He held a 15-5 overall singles mark as he and his Trojans entered NCAA Team play last week. After starting the year ranked No. 1 in the nation together, the senior tandem of Cukierman and Smith weighed in at No. 10 in the land in the last round of rankings. The duo is USC's winningest pair this season, boasting an 18-4 overall record as the NCAA Team Tournament arises later this week. The two Trojans were All-Americans together in 2020 after helping drive USC to the 2020 ITA National Team Indoor Championships — where they earned All-Tournament Team honors — and up to a No. 1 team ranking by year's end. As the 2020 postseason was not played due to the coronavirus pandemic, this will be Cukierman and Smith's first NCAA Doubles trip together. Smith has made previous NCAA journeys with former teammate Brandon Holt, reaching the Round of 16 in 2018 and making Round of 32 appearances in 2017 and 2019..
BY THE NUMBERS
USC's winningest player to date is newcomer Lodewijk Weststrate, who has churned out 24 singles wins in his freshman campaign as a Trojan so far. Next in line with 19 wins is Stefan Dostanic followed by Bradley Frye with 18. In doubles, USC's top pairs have gone a combined 34-4 in dual-match play. Top-ranked Daniel Cukierman and Riley Smith are currently 19-3 at the No. 1 spot on the year, while Stefan Dostanic and Bradley Frye boast a near-perfect 15-1 mark to date on 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 CONFERENCE 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 DEBUTS ON PAC-12 HONOR ROLL
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 three singles matches this season.
FRYE'S FIRST PAC-12 PICK
Bradley Frye secured his first career award from the conference in his March 16 selection as the Pac-12 Player of the Week. He was the spark behind the Trojans' sweep in their Pac-12 opener against Utah, snagging the first doubles victory and the first singles win of the day for USC. Paired up with freshman Sean Holt, Frye stayed strong in the doubles realm as the pair whipped up a swift 6-1 win on court three to set USC up for success against the Utes. Playing at the No. 2 singles spot for just the second time in his Trojan career, Frye was all business and delivered a speedy 6-3, 6-3 win to take the Trojans to a 2-0 lead. The win was Frye's fifth consecutive singles victory, lifting him to 9-2 overall on the year in the singles realm.
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. •