It's time for USC to try and add to their NCAA title count as the athletic year winds down. Six Trojan teams are currently ranked in the top 10 in their respective sports, including the defending 4-time national champion men's tennis team. But one team that isn't in that group is the men's volleyball team, which recently finished a brutal 2013 campaign. After reaching the national championship game last year, the Trojans struggled without their national player of the year Tony Ciarelli and All-American middle block Steven Shandrick. The team's attack percentage dropped from .297 in 2012 to .228 in 2013, while their opponent's average percentage rose from .192 to .304. As a result, the team went 6-18 this season, got swept twice by UCLA, and failed to qualify for the MPSF tournament. It has definitely been a rebuilding year for that team, and it may be a long road back to title contention.
Fortunately, it's a much brighter story for several other teams:
Women's Tennis was the first team to add to the trophy case last week, defeating UCLA 6-1 to go undefeated in Pac-12 play and win the conference title. The team is led by sophomore Sabrina Santamaria, who is currently riding a 21-match winning streak and is ranked #2 in the nation. She is also ranked #2 in doubles with her partner Kaitlyn Christian, and is expected to be a top contender in both categories at the Pac-12 championships taking place this weekend in Ojai. As a team, USC is currently ranked #5 in the nation, but if they want to add an NCAA title to their conference achievements, they will have to take down the back-to-back defending champion Florida Gators.
Men's Tennis wasn't as fortunate against the Bruins, losing 4-3 in Westwood last week. The victory catapulted UCLA to the top of the national rankings, while USC dropped a spot to #5 Unlike the women, the men's Pac-12 tennis title is determined by an 8-team tournament, in which USC is the #2 seed. USC is still a contender to win their fifth consecutive NCAA title, but with the departure of their undefeated team captain Steve Johnson, who won the NCAA singles title for four straight years along with the team titles, other teams have caught up with the Trojans. Two teams that are particularly itching to seize the crown from SC are the Bruins (for obvious reasons), and the Virginia Cavaliers, who have lost in the championship to USC for the past two years and defeated the Trojans in an indoor tournament earlier this year. Making matters worse is a shoulder injury by USC's highest ranked player, junior Emilio Gomez. The injury forced Gomez to retire from his match against UCLA, and his status for the tournament is unknown.
Women's Golf is having a spectacular season this year after falling just a stroke short of winning the 2012 NCAA title. This week, the team won the Pac-12 title by a whopping 24 strokes over UCLA, with freshman Annie Park beating out her junior teammate Sophia Popov for the individual win. The team has won four other meets so far this season, including invitationals hosted by Stanford and UCLA. Three members of the team have earned individual wins, including Park and Popov. USC has narrow hold of the top spot in the national rankings over Alabama, as they move on to the Pac-12 regionals on May 9.
Women's Water Polo suffered its first defeat of the season at the hands of Stanford on April 13 by a score of 6-4. USC just didn't have enough answers to Stanford's stifling defense, which locked down the Women of Troy despite several 6-on-5 opportunities. It was by far the worst offensive showing from USC this season, as they had scored a minimum of nine goals in every game so far. But SC got back to its winning ways a few days later with an 11-6 road victory over UCLA, as junior Kaleigh Gilchrist and freshman Anni Espar scored three goals each. USC finishes the season with a 21-1 record and the #2 seed in the MPSF tournament. That tournament begins Friday with a match against Cal State Bakersfield. Don't be surprised if it's SC vs. Stanford in the final.
Women's Lacrosse is reaching the end of their inaugural season, as they compete against San Diego State on the road in a critical game. The winner of the match will earn the #4 seed in the MPSF and will face Denver in the conference tournament. The winner of the 4-team tourney will receive an automatic berth into the NCAA tournament. USC is 7-9 on the season, while the Aztecs are on a three game losing streak. USC is riding high going into this game, defeating Fresno State 19-1 last week.
Finally, the Track and Field teams begin a big month at home. First, they will end the regular season with a dual meet against UCLA at Loker Stadium. The USC men's team has found a bit of a renaissance this season, currently ranked #9 in the nation and with 8 athletes posting top 25 marks on the season, including Olympic silver medalist Bryshon Nellum. The following week, USC will host the Pac-12 championships at Loker, where Oregon will attempt to continue their dominance of west coast track.
USC needs just four more championships to become the third university to reach the century mark. This month could go a long way towards reaching that milestone.