The USF men’s tennis squad heads into its season-opening match this weekend, looking to build on a very successful 2001 campaign that saw them make the second round of the NCAA Tournament before falling to UCLA. The Bulls will look to make victims of Bethune-Cookman on Saturday at 1 p.m. and then Florida A&M on Sunday at 1 p.m.
Last season’s team reached as high as 32nd in the national rankings and finished up ranked 38th, largely due to the performances of two freshmen, Paco Antelo and Martin Wetzel. Both received all-conference honors with Antelo receiving first team honors and Wetzel landing a second team nod.
“Our young ones have to be the leaders this year and take off with our new young guys to enable us to build on our success last season,” said coach Don Barr.
Also helping Antelo and Wetzel out with the leadership this season will be the new team captain, junior Jorge Escallon, and his doubles skills.
According to Wetzel, Barr landed a couple of prime-time newcomers to the team in German Uli Kindl and Danny McCain, a transfer from Michigan who played No. 2 and No. 3 singles for a team that finished in the top 30 last year.
“I look to be a leader, and help my new teammates out as much as I can, but I’m sure those two (Kindl and McCain) will do just fine this year,” Wetzel said. “They both have traveled a lot and definitely have the talent.”
Barr also did not make it easy on the Bulls schedule-wise, as the 38th ranked Bulls will take on eight opponents with a higher preseason ranking, beginning next Friday against the 18th ranked Jaguars of South Alabama.
“We usually try to beef it up a little every year,” said Barr. “This year is no exception … you only get better by playing the best.”Some of the other highly ranked opponents on the Bulls schedule include No. 35 Florida, No. 21 UT-San Antonio, No. 20 Auburn, No. 18 Miami, and No. 15 LSU, in addition to conference foes TCU and Tulane which are ranked No. 19 and No. 31, respectively.
One sign of relief for the Bulls is Wetzel’s healthy quadricep muscle that he sprained last spring and then reinjured in the fall.
“I haven’t missed any practices, everybody is in shape and playing well,” Wetzel said.
Barr said Wetzel is almost fully recovered.
“He’s pretty close to 100 percent … maybe 85 to 90,” Barr said in reference to the injury.
Wetzel was even more energized when asked about his perfect singles record from last season.
“It’s more of a motivational tool than pressure for me, and it keeps my confidence up … even if I lose a couple games I know I can come back and win the match,” he said.