The last time South Carolina men’s tennis made the trip down to Orlando, in 2019, it returned with a national championship trophy courtesy of singles champ Paul Jubb.
Two years later, the Gamecocks are headed back, on the hunt for more hardware at the USTA National Campus.
Coming off back-to-back 4-0 victories over UNC Wilmington and North Carolina State, USC has advanced to the Round of 16 in the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2005. The No. 13 seed Gamecocks will face No. 4 seed Texas on Monday, seeking the program’s first national quarterfinals berth since 1989.
“I think we’ve built an intensity and a toughness around our squad that’s kind of what our program resonates with,” coach Josh Goffi said. “And so as the season goes on, some teams sort of go south and we keep on trucking. So I think our guys are where they need to be. It’s an exciting time. It’s an exciting time for our guys. It’s all new frontier here, and we’re going to go into it eyes wide open.”
Already, Goffi and the Gamecocks have reached new milestones for the program and the coach’s 11-year tenure. They upset No. 3 seed Georgia in the quarterfinals of the SEC tournament to advance to the program’s second semifinal in a row — they had only been that far once before. And as the No. 13 overall seed in the NCAA tournament, they hosted the program’s first NCAA tourney matches since 1994.
Star sophomore Daniel Rodrigues leads the way, checking in at No. 2 in the ITA rankings and leading four USC players in the top 70 nationally. But the bottom of the lineup has come up big as of late too — South Carolina native Thomas Brown has established himself in the No. 6 position and delivered the clinching victory in the Round of 32 against N.C. State.
“I was just thinking about the other day, to be honest, about how cool it is that Thomas is able to get in right now in the biggest part of our year,” Goffi said. “He’s had a few niggles this year as far as injuries and so on, where it’s sidelined him and he hasn’t really gotten the traction that he’s really earned, to be honest. He did an unbelievable job throughout his four years. He’s gotten in, and he’s won some big matches for us.”
In Orlando, South Carolina will face a tall challenge against the Longhorns, who took home the national title in 2019 and were near the top of the rankings in 2020 before the season was canceled by the COVID-19 pandemic. Texas is seeking to become just the seventh program to win back-to-back championships.
“They’ve had a great year, and I think there’s a lot of belief and expectation that they can do it again,” Goffi said. “What we’re going to bring to the table is our standards. We’re going to match whatever they’re bringing as far as energy and intensity. And I think level-wise, we’re right there, but all that’s gonna be determined on match day.
“We’re gonna go out there and do what we do, and we’ll move with the match, and if we need to raise our level, we’ll raise our level and so on. We’re excited. We never really get to play teams like Texas, and so we have no idea how good they are this year, and that’ll be determined on Monday.”
NCAA TENNIS ROUND OF 16
Who: No. 4 seed Texas vs. No. 13 seed South Carolina
When: 4 p.m. Monday
Where: Orlando, Florida
Watch: Tennis Channel