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Foreign players hold court for USF

America, its businesses, institutions and universities have always been known as a melting pot, an eclectic mix of people of all nationalities, races and religions. Much is the same for the USF men?s tennis team.

The team, who will be competing this weekend at Florida, is made up of students from countries such as Bolivia, Germany, Aruba, India, Switzerland and Colombia, who have come to America to earn their education while playing tennis.

Despite the high number of foreign players, coach Don Barr looks domestically before searching outside of the country for players.

“I would like to get some good American players,” Barr said. “I?m not going to get it at the cost of hurting the program.”

It appears now that the program is only being assisted by the influx of foreign players leading the team towards a second-round appearance in last year?s NCAA tournament.

Among them is sophomore Paco Antelo, the No. 1 ranked junior in Bolivia who represented his country in the Davis Cup and was invited to be part of their Olympic team.

Martin Wetzel is also a top player in his country, where he was ranked the No. 2 junior in Germany.

The players come here to have an opportunity to play tennis on a larger stage and get a fine education while still playing.

In Germany there are no collegiate sports and school is much sterner, with only lectures and a final exam.

“I like the education here, it?s a lot more personal. I like the professors here, they are always trying to help you and have a good relationship with you,” Wetzel said. “In Germany they just give lectures, they don?t care. If you do bad on one exam here, you can study harder on another and still get a good grade.”

Aruba, an island in the Caribbean, the home country of senior Eric Gildhorn, also has a tougher educational system in which there are no such things as multiple-choice tests.

To be able to play tennis at the collegiate level you must have a strong desire for the sport. This desire has led these players to seek greener pastures, or rather courts, in America so they can possibly continue their tennis career after school.

“Aruba is such a small island that you don?t get as much exposure as you do here, Gildhorn said. “To achieve my dream of playing pro I had to leave Aruba and come to the States.”

The Tampa area seems to spark the players? interest. They can practice practically year round. It has two strong tennis academies nearby and is home to some of tennis? finest athletes, such as Pete Sampras and Jennifer Capriati.

Coach Barr also contributes to the players? desire to represent USF on the courts. He was once head of a program to teach other coaches how to instruct on and off the court. Through this program he met coaches from around the world who let their players know of his quality coaching and the opportunities USF offers.

“There?s talent all over the world and these foreign players don?t really value the school by the football and basketball teams like Americans do, so they value the university and the tennis,” Barr said.

“Hopefully, with our football program taking off we will be able to pick up on junior American players.”

The players keep their minds off being homesick by constantly studying, practicing and participating in tournaments.

They continue this weekend against the Gators Friday, Auburn Saturday and Miami Sunday.

It will be a good test at the start of the season for the Bulls, competing against teams ranked in the top 15 last season.

The match against Florida will mean even more this year since USF defeated the Gators last season.

“I think we?re going to do good ? we?re playing really well,” Gildhorn said.

“The Gators are going to be angry because we beat them last time. It?s going to be a really good match.”

  • Contact Bryan Fazio at