In the first Intercollegiate Tennis Association action of the spring, the No. 1-ranked USC men’s tennis team defended its home territory in flawless fashion, defeating Louisiana-Lafayette and Santa Clara to top the four-team tournament this past weekend.“I was really happy with the energy,” head coach Peter Smith said. “On the court, in the stands, I felt like everybody was really involved in the match. It’s so great to have the season start and have the season under way.”The Trojans beat the Ragin’ Cajuns 4-0 on Jan. 23, the first day of the ITA Kickoff Weekend at Marks Stadium, to advance to the championship round. In doubles, the sophomore pair of Nick Crystal and Connor Farren defeated the Ragin’ Cajuns’ Will Huyton and Jake Wynan 6-2, and the No. 1-ranked doubles duo Yannick Hanfmann and Roberto Quiroz defeated Louisiana’s Jarred Wynan and Coleman Wahlborg 6-3 to put the Trojans up 1-0. Trojan senior Eric Johnson and junior Max de Vroome were leading Edgar Lopez and Damian Farinola 5-4 when play was suspended.De Vroome and Crystal led the Trojans’ in singles play of the first round. De Vroome dispatched Vlad Kramarov and Crystal routed Huyton, both by tallies of 6-1, 6-1. No. 3-ranked Hanfmann topped Lopez 6-2, 6-2 and with three victories in singles, the Trojans gained three points and completed the sweep of the Ragin’ Cajuns.De Vroome turned it around and became a big part of the Trojans’ win Friday after what he believes was a slow start.“I started off a little rusty, made a few mistakes, but then [Krzysztof Kwinta], our assistant coach, came on,” De Vroome said. “He told me to play a little heavier, a little more on the ready. So I stayed back a little more, waited for my opportunities, and I took the chances when I got them.”In the final of the event on Jan. 24, the Trojans pulled off another sweep against Santa Clara. Hanfmann and Quiroz defeated the Broncos’ Ashot Khacharyan and Ilya Osintsev 6-2 as Johnson and de Vroome took down Mikheil Khmiadashvili and Sam Bertram 6-1, clinching the doubles’ point for the Trojans.Quiroz finds he and his fellow seniors are trying to make the most of every match in their final year.“It’s really special for the four seniors playing our last season,” Quiroz said. “We’re really happy to be here and enjoying all the time we’re spending on the courts. We’re just trying to get betting, we’re just starting the season. We have great expectations for the season, so I think we did great today.”In singles, Crystal continued his dominance with an immaculate match in the final, defeating Michael Standifer 6-0, 6-0. Senior Jonny Wang followed suit with a 6-1, 6-1 victory over Khmiadashvili and Johnson rounded out the second sweep with a 6-3, 6-2 win against Sebastian Mathieu.De Vroome felt his team fed off each other’s energy during the match.“It’s definitely contagious to play well, seeing each other play well and pumping each other up,” De Vroome said.With their resounding victory this past weekend, the Trojans clinch a spot at the ITA National Team Indoor Championships in Chicago, Illinois, next month. Smith has liked what he’s seen from the defending NCAA champions in the early stages of the season.“I think we’re in a great place,” Smith said. “I think the guys are really looking to get better, they’re really open, really motivated, and they’re getting after it.”Up next, the Trojans will travel to Athens, Georgia, this weekend to face the Florida Gators and Georgia Bulldogs. Though the season is still young, Quiroz and the Trojans’ minds are already on the long run — defending their throne.“USC always sets their goals really high,” Quiroz said. “But you know what, we look at the big picture, so we just keep getting better, keep working on our game, and we improve for May, which is our main goal.”
The little guys of March have all been eliminated from the NCAA Tournament.Thanks for the memories, Stephen F. Austin, Middle Tennessee and Arkansas-Little Rock.In many ways, this postseason fiasco is all about the little guys. Their magic against the powerhouses never fails to appease college basketball fans’ morbid fascination with seeing their brackets crumble.And while this Sweet 16 features exactly zero real underdogs, there is one particularly intriguing team still hanging around.Of course we see you, Syracuse.The Orange racked up 13 losses on the season. This meant that Jim Boeheim’s not-so-star-studded team was on the bubble to even make the field of 68. However, after its self-imposed postseason ban just a year ago, ’Cuse squeezed its way into the tourney and now has officially completed its return to primetime.Because of Northern Iowa’s historic collapse against Texas A&M, Syracuse is really the last team remaining that truly feels like an enigma.Wisconsin, Notre Dame and Duke also finished with 10 or more losses this season, but these teams were grabbing headlines with regularity. The Wisconsin hype train was fairly calm this season after the Badgers’ postseason run a year ago, but Notre Dame and Duke always seem to find the limelight.Syracuse’s season was a different story.The Orange’s four-game skid in the middle of the season certainly didn’t help this group leap to the forefront of media attention, nor did the team’s losing five of its last six games leading up to the NCAA Tournament.Many fans likely saw the perennial powerhouse casually hanging out in the bottom right corner of the bracket and didn’t think much of it. Yet although Syracuse-Dayton appeared the definition of a tossup, the Orange clobbered the Flyers.Surely Boeheim’s team didn’t have the ability to compete with Michigan State in the second game. Well, the Spartans somehow lost by nine to a sneaky good Middle Tennessee bunch. This set up nicely for ‘Cuse, who wrecked the Cinderella team from Murfreesboro, Tennessee.Next up for Michael Gbinije and Malachi Richardson: Gonzaga. Gbinije and Richardson are Syracuse’s two leading scorers, but this team has flown so far under the radar that these names don’t really resonate like, say, Carmelo Anthony, Scoop Jardine or C.J Fair. The Bulldogs of Gonzaga cruised into the tournament as an 11-seed and simply dominated two quality teams in Seton Hall and Utah en route to the Sweet 16.While this may look like a friendly draw for the good folks from Spokane, the admonition from a completely neutral columnist at a student publication is very real. Proceed with caution. Syracuse does not have a tremendous amount of pressure heaped upon its shoulders. Its zone seemingly always gives opposing coaches headaches in March and its balanced scoring at the offensive end represents a well-rounded, versatile attack.The Carrier Dome, traditionally a cathedral of college basketball greatness, was seemingly just another gym this season. In fact, this middling ACC team was actually treated as such. ‘Cuse went .500 in conference play and looked perfectly average, yet these guys appear to be hitting stride at the perfect time.As a program, having storylines — or even a roster — begging for television exposure during December obviously gets you nowhere in March. ‘Cuse is a legitimately dangerous team that could manage to escape the Midwest region if this upward trajectory continues against a talented Gonzaga side.Josh Cohen is a sophomore majoring in broadcast and digital journalism. His column, “Cohen’s Corner,” runs Tuesdays.