The key words that come to mind when thinking back on the South Florida men’s tennis team’s fall season are improvement and overcoming adversity.
The Bulls, who started the season with a 1-21 record in the Gator Invitational, finished this weekend at the LSU Showcase by playing strong matches against some top players.
“We went 1-21, we had a couple of talks and ever since then we changed things in practice, we tried to be more motivated,” Jorge Escallon said. “From the fact that we stood really close talking about what was going on. It’s been just an overall good effort.”
Escallon defeated No. 72 Jesse Smatt of LSU 4-6, 6-1, 10-8. Paco Antelo defeated Smatt 7-6, 6-4 and Bryan Fisher of LSU 2-6, 6-3, 10-7, who coach Don Barr figures should be ranked. Antelo played tough matches, losing to No. 15 Michael Kogan of Tulane 3-6, 6-3, 10-8 and No. 29 Dan Kiernan of LSU 7-5, 6-1.
“We did good,” Escallon said. “It’s not really about wins and losses, but we’re playing good players and good teams, and we’re at that level of these players, that brings a lot of confidence to our team.”
And the Bulls confidence was shaken after a physically and mentally trying season.
The start of the fall season this year came around the time America was attacked on Sept. 11.
In addition to dealing with the mental stress of the attacks, the Bulls were hit with the loss of teammate Max Dockhorn, who went home to Germany because of the tragic events that occurred Sept. 11.
At that point, nothing seemed to click for the Bulls, leading players to not perform as well as they should have. Injuries then followed for the Bulls with Martin Wetzel suffering the most serious, a sprained quadriceps that put him out most of the season.
The team then lost their second player of the season when Jit Shah left the team because of several reasons, among those losing his competitive desires.These unfortunate events would have been enough to keep a team down for a whole year, but the team recovered in about two months thanks to the closeness of teammates and the guidance of coach Barr.
“I think we did a good job (this season), we had a lot of problems,” Antelo said. “It was hard. We had a couple weeks that were tough for us, and I think we pulled it out. The last two, three tournaments we did a good job.”
They ended the season on a good note with Escallon and Antelo showing improvement along with Eric Gildhorn.Gildhorn went 2-1 during the weekend, defeating Arty Ishii of Tulane 6-1, 6-0 and Michael Tarchowski of Louisiana-Lafayette 6-0, 7-5, but losing to Peter Richman of LSU 6-1, 6-0.
“Eric Gildhorn has been working very hard, he has really zeroed in and his game is getting stronger,” Barr said. “Jorge made a big step forward, he has been competing unbelievably.”
Despite the improvements, the Bulls encountered injuries to Wetzel and Nadim Naser, who pulled a stomach muscle. The two-month layoff will give the team time to recover.
Wetzel lost to Fisher 6-4, 4-6, 10-4 and Jason Hazley of LSU 3-6, 6-3, 10-7. Naser lost to Viktor Loven of New Orleans 7-6, 6-2 and to Smatt 7-6, 2-0 before leaving because of injury.
The other Bull to compete in the tournament, Adrian Meier, went 1-2 defeating Tarchowski 7-5, 3-6, 6-4 and losing to Brandon Nicholson of LSU 6-4, 2-6, 10-4 and Sanjin Sadovich of LSU 6-1, 6-3.
- Bryan Fazio covers men’s tennis and can be reached at email@example.com