Tradition is what every college athletics program looks to build.Bulls’ coach Don Barr saw the fruits of the tradition he has built in his 10 years at USF Saturday for Senior Day.
With friends, family and former Bulls’ tennis players in the crowd, the USF men’s tennis team ended its home season with a convincing 7-0 sweep over in-state rival Jacksonville.
“We want to make this a tradition more teams will follow,” said team captain Jorge Escallon. “I want to see myself 20 or 30 years from now coming back and seeing who is playing. That is what is special, not just playing four years and saying you had fun.”
Escallon teamed up with Nadim Naser to breeze 8-0 over the Dolphins’ Anthony Bugge and Andres Rojas in doubles. Naser also defeated Rojas 6-3, 6-3 at No. 3 singles, and Escallon defeated Rich Davoli 6-2, 6-1 at No. 4 singles.
Senior Eric Gildhorn finished his career on the USF tennis courts by teaming up with Adrian Meier to defeat Davoli and Kamal El Bouzkouri 8-0 at No. 3 doubles.
“Eric works hard and is a team player,” Barr said. “He’s never questioned where or when I played him, but he was always ready to step in and play whenever we needed him.”
Gildhorn now has a 5-1 record in doubles action this year.
“Eric’s a very good doubles player and brings a lot of fun and excitement to the team,” Escallon said of his roommate.Assistant coach Mike Henderson was most impressed with Gildhorn’s acceptance of his role.
“When you are talking about a championship team in football or basketball you always here about how the guys on the bench were instrumental, and Eric is one of those guys.”
Barr added, “Leadership-wise, especially in practice, Eric practiced hard and did not hurt the team by complaining or anything like that.”
The other Bull senior, Dan McCain, was awarded a much-needed day off, as was Paco Antelo.
“I felt if we’re the 28th-ranked team in the nation our depth should be able to beat these guys,” Barr said. “Danny and Paco are on top of their games, and there was no reason to have injury or something else ruin our chances at the conference tournament next weekend. Plus, Martin (Wetzel) needed to get back the feeling of competition with a tournament coming up.”
Wetzel hadn’t played in three weeks due to his nagging left quadriceps injury. After Uli Kiendl and Wetzel were defeated soundly in doubles play, Barr asked Wetzel if he was sure he was ready for singles play.
“That’s when I found out his grandfather was deathly ill and he told me it was on his mind,” Barr said. “I told him you can’t help your grandfather where you are, you can only try and turn something bad into something positive and that his grandfather would rather have him play than worry about him.”
Wetzel struggled early at No. 1 singles but came back to beat Ben Birkmann 2-6, 6-3, 6-4 and seal the sweep for the Bulls.
“He (Barr) told me to concentrate on tennis because it is the only thing I could control,” Wetzel said. “His experience really helped me because not playing would have only made things worse.”
Gildhorn echoed Wetzel’s feelings on Barr, “From the first year I was here until now he has improved tremendously on a personal basis and is just a great guy. We won conference my first year here, and winning another championship would be great finish for my career.”
Personal attention and attention to detail have helped Barr build his tradition at USF.
He now will go for another Conference USA title next weekend in Louisville.
Chris Lemke covers men’s tennis and can be reached at email@example.com