In a big showdown between in-state rivals, the 38th ranked USF men’s tennis team will stake its claim as being underrated when the Bulls take on the 35th ranked Florida Gators Sunday at noon.
Some of the Bulls (3-0) said they feel shafted, ranked three spots below a team they beat head-to-head and went further into the NCAA Tournament than last year.
“It’s always been the top rivalry on our list,” said Bulls coach Don Barr. “Last year we went up to Gainesville and beat them for the first time, so there is a sense of wanting to prove that last year was no fluke.”
“The team also feels it should have been ranked ahead of them to start the year since the Gators lost in the first round of the NCAAs, while we made it into the second round,” he added.
The Bulls made a strong statement to the pollsters of the Intercollegiate Tennis Association by defeating 17th-ranked South Alabama 5-2 last week. The Gators are coming off a 6-1 decision over No. 64 Furman and a 5-2 victory over UCF last weekend.
One of the keys to victory for the Bulls against South Alabama was strong doubles play. The Bulls took two out of three doubles matches, giving the team a 1-0 lead heading into singles play. This point proved to be crucial as the No. 1, No. 2, No. 3 and No. 4 singles matches all went to a third set with the Bulls having already won the No. 5 and No. 6 singles matches easily. The Bulls eventually won the match 5-2 when the No. 3 and No. 4 singles won.
“I don’t think it is that big of a deal right now that we necessarily have to win the doubles point due to our great depth,” said senior Dan McCain, who played the No. 4 against South Alabama. “I think we can definitely make up for it in singles play, but later on in the season, when we get to the conference tournament and the NCAAs, I think our doubles play will be one of our strengths.”As for the Gators, McCain had this to say: “I think they are equal to or lesser than the team they had last year. I look forward to a strong showing from us because I know we are a stronger team than the one that defeated them a year ago.”
The Bulls all share a quiet confidence in their belief in the team’s depth being the key to overcome the opponent, no matter who it is, big rival or not.
“I haven’t been a part of this rivalry,” said McCain, who transferred from Michigan this year. “I do know we all believe in ourselves and our abilities to overcome any little issues, including injury or any bitterness for being ranked below them.”
One Bull who has been injured is Martin Wetzel, who, despite his injured left quadriceps, was able to pull out a big victory at the No. 3 in singles against South Alabama.
“I told him (point guard) Reggie Kohn is out there playing with a broken leg, so he better suck it up, and he showed his teammates a lot in his three-set victory,” said coach Barr.
With Wetzel being as close to 100 percent as possible over the past couple of months, the pieces are all in place for the Bulls to prove they deserve a top 30 ranking.
- Chris Lemke covers men’s tennis and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org