Trojans poised to compete for Pac-12 title
After a strong performance during the regular season, the USC men’s tennis team heads into tournament play ready to make its mark and win its sixth national championship in seven years. Before that, however, the squad will travel to Ojai this weekend to compete for the Pac-12 championship.The tournament begins Wednesday, but USC won’t play their first match until Friday. With only Stanford seeded ahead of them in the Pac-12, USC will enter the tournament as the No. 2 seed and advance automatically into the semifinals. No. 3-seeded UCLA and No. 4-seeded California automatically advance to the quarterfinals on Thursday. The teams battling it out during the first round on Wednesday will be No. 5-seeded Oregon against No. 8-seeded Arizona and No. 6-seeded Washington against No. 7-seeded Utah.The Trojans have a favorable bracket, considering that they could face either the Utah Utes, the Washington Huskies or the UCLA Bruins in the semifinals, all teams that the Trojans beat in conference play earlier this season. The Trojans went a perfect 7-0 over the Utes on April 3 and dominated 6-1 against the Huskies on March 27. The Trojans not only beat the Bruins earlier in the year in a non-conference matchup, but USC also beat its crosstown rival in their latest contest last week by a score of 4-2.The Trojans enter the tournament with seven wins in their last eight team matches. Seniors Jonny Wang, Eric Johnson, Yannick Hanfmann and Roberto Quiroz will be making their final appearances in the Pac-12 championship, which the Trojans last won in 2012 in the tournament’s inaugural year. The Pac-12 currently has three teams in the ITA Top 25 rankings, including the Trojans, so the tournament will be an opportunity for USC to pick up any final details about their opponents that they can use at the NCAA championships.Wang and junior Max de Vroome enter the Pac-12 championship semifinals as the leading individual players for the Trojans; Wang has won his last 12 individual matches, and de Vroome is riding an eight-match winning streak.The Trojans also boast six players ranked in the ITA Top 100 for singles. Hanfmann currently holds the highest ranking among USC players at No. 11, followed by Quiroz at No. 22. Wang is ranked at No. 38, and sophomore Nick Crystal is ranked No. 67. De Vroome ranks No. 86, and Johnson rounds out the ITA Top 100 at No. 100. Hanfmann and Quiroz also are ranked No. 3 by the ITA in doubles play.Of the three teams that USC could face in the semifinals, the Bruins might be the most difficult opponent, considering they have won six of their last eight matches. In addition, the Bruins also beat the Huskies and Utes earlier this season 6-1 and 7-0, respectively. The Huskies don’t have any individual players or doubles pairings in the ITA Top 100 and are only 2-5 in conference play, while the Utes have lost six of their last seven matches.On the other side of the bracket, the Cal Bears will await the winner of the matchup between the Oregon Ducks and the Arizona Wildcats. The Stanford Cardinal, who have a 6-1 Pac-12 record this season, will play one of those three teams in the semifinal. The Cardinal would likely not want to face the Bears, since the Bears are the only team in the Pac-12 that beat the Cardinal this season. The Ducks are only 3-4 in conference play and haven’t beaten the Bears this season, but one of their wins was against the Wildcats earlier this month by a score of 4-1. The Wildcats are winless in the Pac-12 this year and only sport an 8-18 overall record.If the Trojans advance to the final round, the Cardinal would most likely give them the most trouble, as the Cardinal beat the Trojans 4-3 a few weeks ago in a conference matchup. With that said, the Trojans did beat the Cardinal earlier this year 6-1 in a non-conference matchup. The other three teams — the Wildcats, Ducks and Bears — all fell to the Trojans this season.