Taylor Linton | May 2, 2019
When the University of Southern California’s men’s program hoisted the trophy above their heads after winning the first NCAA Division I championship in 1946, it certainly wasn’t going to be the last. Since then, the Trojans developed into the winningest program in NCAA men’s history, bringing home a total of 21 titles.
The team recently claimed four consecutive national titles, from 2009-12, and then another in 2014. The squad came close last season, reaching the quarterfinals before succumbing to UCLA in a tight 4-3 contest.
Head coach Peter Smith has led the team for 10 seasons and has five national titles under his belt. He’s been named Intercollegiate Tennis Association National Coach of the Year twice, as well as Pac-12 Coach of the Year five times. He says the team has unfinished business and they’re ready for the deep run for NCAA crown this year.ADVERTISEMENT
On the heels of a 2019 Pac-12 tournament title, a result that saw the Trojans move up to No. 8 in the Tennis Channel/USTA College Tennis Rankings, this year’s squad is hungry for more.
“This is a very experienced team,” Smith said, speaking before the Pac-12 postseason. “They know that there are many seasons in tennis and that the season that matters the most is the last one. For us, it’s very exciting to be building toward that and to be playing down at the [USTA National Campus] facility.”
Smith has the privilege of having two of his sons on the team, Tanner and Riley. Tanner, a senior, is currently a captain of the team, alongside junior Brandon Holt. Although neither captain has seen a national title as a Trojan, the senior knows the team is gearing up for it.
“On a white board in our locker room, we have a countdown of every match we have leading up to the NCAAs,” said Tanner, who is the older of the two sons. “It’s always on our mind that that’s the end goal in every match. Every match almost seems like practice for the NCAAs more than anything else. We’re constantly trying to build to that and looking at every match as practice, rather than just looking at it as one particular match.”
Tanner feels that the team is now primed for the main event, after starting the season with a few minor setbacks.
“We kind of got bit by the injury bug at the start of the year,” he said. “We had a couple really big players injured and we suffered a couple of early losses because of that. We were figuring out our lineup and where everyone stands. Once we had our lineup set and a lot of the injured guys healthy, the team chemistry went through the roof and we built off those injuries. In some ways, it helped us, because it made us come together.”
Although the lineup settled over the course of the season, the talent throughout the roster makes the starters and subs interchangeable, according to Holt.
“I think our biggest strength is the amount of deep players we have. We’ve got 11 guys who are interchangeable in the lineup, but I also think that’s a big weakness. Everyone is deserving of a chance to play,” he said. “Honestly, there’s only X amount of positions to play, so not everyone gets to play, which is a huge bummer.”
Coach Smith agreed: “Our biggest challenge has been everyone finding their roles. I think the biggest issue we have is we have too many good players; you have to give up some things. It was guys being comfortable with their role, whether it is starting, playing doubles, or not starting. Just finding the way everyone can help the team the most. It can result in huge sacrifices for some players.”
No matter what lineup takes the court during the NCAA Championships, the entire Trojan team will be working towards an opportunity to hoist the trophy above their heads once again, at the USTA National Campus in Orlando, Fla.
For more on the NCAA Championships, including ticket information, visit the USTA National Campus website.
(Photo courtesy of the University of Southern California)