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UNIVERSITY BEAT

Taking Up a Legend's Legacy

January 25, 2003|Eric Stephens | Times Staff Writer

Peter Smith will direct his first team match as USC's men's tennis coach today when the Trojans play host to Brigham Young and Fresno State.

His most important task: to continue a legacy.

Smith is taking the reins from a legend, Dick Leach, who last season was given the ultimate retirement gift after 23 years -- the Trojans won their fourth NCAA title under him; the 16th tennis championship in school history.

Smith couldn't resist the allure of USC, even after presiding over a top-10 program at Pepperdine for five years.

"I wanted to be at the best and go after the best," he said. "This place is special. The expectation is to win the NCAA championship every year."

Smith, 37, spent six years at Fresno State, where he led the Bulldogs to the NCAA tournament four times.

While he was at Pepperdine, the Waves went 118-31 and reached the NCAA quarterfinals twice. Pepperdine finished last season No. 5 in the nation.

Smith recalls his move to USC as a whirlwind process.

"It was very quick," he said. "It was all done on cell phones and then I took a tour of the campus.

"It wasn't a simple decision for me [to leave Pepperdine]. I was not unhappy there."

Next week will be important for Smith. The Trojans will play at Pepperdine on Wednesday and then play host to top-ranked UCLA on Friday.

Each match has its own significance. Smith, along with sophomore transfers Johan Berg and Brian Wright, will be returning to Malibu for the first time. Then Smith will experience the USC-UCLA rivalry, although he got a feel for it at a November football game.

"It doesn't get any better than that," Smith said. "I took my son to the game. He learned some words that can't be repeated."

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UCLA's men's tennis team dominated the Sherwood Collegiate Cup individual tournament in Thousand Oaks.

Senior Tobias Clemens won the singles' title for the second year in a row on Monday when he defeated teammate Marcin Matkowski, 6-2, 6-1. The semifinal matches comprised UCLA players as Clemens played against Erfan Djahangiri and Matkowski met Rodrigo Grilli.

"I'm not only happy for Toby but I am also happy with our other guys," UCLA Coach Billy Martin said. "Chris Lam [who reached the quarterfinals] to me was as good as anybody."

USC's Daniel Langre and Prakash Amritraj won the doubles title.

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The USC women's volleyball team and UCLA men's soccer team will be honored at the White House on Feb. 21, along with Ohio State's football team and Portland's women's soccer team. All won national championships in the fall.... UC Riverside will retire Angel reliever Troy Percival's number today before an alumni baseball game at noon. He was a Highlander catcher from 1988 to 1990.

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