Men’s tennis battles the big boys
MATTHEW ROBERSON | SPORTS EDITOR | @mroberson22
An often used, sometimes even overused, cliche in sports is that if you want to be the best, then you must beat the best.
The University of San Diego men’s tennis team has been steadily rising in terms of national prominence in recent years, so much so that they have found themselves in the Top 20 of the national rankings.
Coming in at No. 17 in the most recent Intercollegiate Tennis Association (ITA) rankings, the Toreros are enjoying the competition that comes with being in the upper echelon of collegiate tennis.
Since Jan. 16, the USD men have stood across the net from several other nationally ranked teams, including the UCLA Bruins, Duke University Blue Devils, Virginia Cavaliers, and Oklahoma Sooners.
The match against Virginia happened to coincide with the Cavaliers being the No. 1 team in the country. When the Toreros dueled the UCLA Bruins and the Oklahoma Sooners, those schools were also in the top 10.
Simply getting the opportunity to go toe-to-toe with some of the best college tennis players in the world is an accomplishment for the USD tennis program.
At the time this article was being written, the ITA Top 25 had 22 of its teams hailing from the so-called Power 5 athletic conferences. This group of athletic titans, known mainly for their football pedigree, is comprised of the Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC), Big Ten, Big 12, Pacific 12 (Pac-12), and Southeastern Conference (SEC).
The only three teams in the Top 25 who do not participate in one of those wealthy, privileged Power 5 conferences are the the South Florida Bulls, Columbia Lions, and our very own San Diego Toreros.
For comparison sake, South Florida has a student population of over 48,000 and Columbia has a historic tennis program that boasts a national championship in doubles play from the year 1888.
USD did not even begin competing in men’s tennis on the Division 1 level until 1980, almost 100 years after Columbia.
While relatively new to the top national tier of men’s tennis, USD has quietly been building a dominant program since its inception.
Since 1984, the Torero tennis team has finished in the top three of the WCC standings every single year. More recently, the team has been WCC champions in both 2014 and 2015.
Junior Joshua Page, who transferred from a junior college and was born and raised in England, is cognizant of the fact that his team is emerging as one of college tennis’ best kept secrets.
“We have played some of the best colleges in the nation and that is something we have been trying to achieve for a long time,” Page said. “We know we are a top 16 team and we really want to push for the top 10.”
While some of those contests against top competition haven’t gone exactly as planned, with lopsided defeats coming at the hands of UCLA, Virginia, and Oklahoma, Page is grateful for the opportunities to build confidence and measure his level of play against the ITA’s elite.
“From playing those teams, it highlighted how close we are to beating them, but also [it highlighted] the areas we need to improve,” Page said. “On a personal note, it gives you confidence that you can compete with the best players in the nation.”
While the Toreros have been competing against the best teams that American collegiate tennis has to offer, a glaring majority of the team is from another country.
Of the 11 players on the active roster, eight of those spent their pre-college days overseas.
In addition to Page and senior Jordan Angus, who are both English, the team also has representation from Cyprus, Estonia, France, New Zealand, Serbia, and Slovakia.
Obviously, this is a huge collection of differing cultures and languages.
However, Page believes that so many players being away from home for so long has actually brought the team together.
“I really find that the group is so close!” Page said. “We all live away from home and sometimes it’s tough and we are there for each other. With the time difference with different countries you sometimes don’t speak to family for weeks. The banter is awesome and I think people who have met us realize we have a lot of fun.”
The team’s fun will continue if they can complete a three-peat of conference championships later this spring.
Their first conference match of the season will be held on March 25 against the dreaded Gonzaga Bulldogs.
After completing the conference schedule, which requires each WCC team to play every other team in the conference, the Toreros will head to the annual WCC Championships in Claremont, CA with their eyes firmly set on a third straight trophy.
After that comes the NCAA Tournament, something the Toreros believe they can make a deep run in.
Page is among the players who have been vocal about the team’s expectations for a shot at a national championship.
“Our team goal is to finish in the top 16 in the nation and make the Elite 8 in the NCAA Tournament, something that is very realistic for us,” Page said. “I will make sure that I do everything I can for the team to put us in the best positions to win.”
While the NCAA Tournament is still months down the road, the Toreros are driving at a steady pace that will make them a force to be reckoned with by the end of the season.