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Harvard gives Bulls an honors lesson on the court

Harvard gave the USF women’s tennis team an Ivy League lesson Tuesday. The Bulls, ranked 74th in the nation, never threatened the 39th-ranked Crimson in their 7-0 shutout, as only Belen Pandre, at No. 6, managed to score at least four games in a set.

The teaching continued for first-year coach Gigi Fernandez as her young team, featuring four newcomers in the singles’ lineup, dropped to 0-3 with the loss to Harvard. In the last four days, USF has lost to No. 2 Florida 7-0 and Florida Atlantic 5-2.

“Our freshmen don’t understand it’s a team effort,” Fernandez said. “When you’re out there playing and you’re looking at the scoreboard, your score matters to the rest of the team. I don’t think our freshmen understood that. Tennis is so individual. You grow up your whole life playing for yourself, and then all of a sudden, five other matches are going to affect the way you play.

“We had one of our matches Sunday and (Fabiana Taverna) was up 5-0 in the second and had she got out of that set and into the third, it kind of lifts everyone up,” Fernandez said. “You’re thinking, ‘If Fabiana wins, then we’re going to be up 2-1, so we need two wins from the other four girls that are out.’ But then she lost, and that kind of deflated everybody. Then, three people are out, and all three have to win. She wasn’t thinking about everybody else. She was thinking about herself because that’s what she’s been doing her whole life. It’s like a learning process, and they have a lot to learn.”

Taking the honors courses is freshman Taverna, who has been thrust into the No. 1 role by Fernandez. It’s been a stiff learning curve for the native of Venezuela. She lost 6-1, 6-1 to Florida’s Lindsey Dawaf, ranked 12th in singles, Saturday, then had a 5-0 lead in the second set Sunday vs. FAU’s Alena Dvorakova before losing 6-0, 7-5. Taverna had another stiff challenge Monday in the form of Harvard’s Courtney Bergman. Ranked 28th in the country, Bergman was a point away from shutting out Taverna in straight sets before USF’s top seed took her first point.

“I’m a freshman and the No. 1, so I have a lot of responsibility,” Taverna said. “I feel so nervous because No. 1 means you have to win.

“We’re upset and we’re disappointed right now. But that’s tennis.”

Illness compounded USF’s problems against the Crimson because the Bulls’ lone senior, Jamie Larson, was out with food poisoning, forcing Fernandez to alter her lineup. Without Larson, who had been playing No. 2 doubles, Pandre was pressed into double duty.

“We have no maneuvering room,” Fernandez said. “We only have seven players, and today our seventh player got sick and she actually plays double. Belen has never played doubles in her life, and we don’t practice her in doubles because she’s not going to play doubles. But then, all of a sudden, Jamie gets sick, so now we’re (stuck).

“That’s tennis. Part of tennis is being resilient and coming back when you’re down.”

Pandre couldn’t help the Bulls earn the doubles point, but she showed resiliency in her singles competition. The freshman from Argentina fell 6-0 in the first set to Melissa Anderson, but rallied from a second-set deficit to tie it at five.

Anderson nailed back-to-back unreturnable serves to take her sixth point, then closed out the match to earn a 6-0, 7-5 win, culminating the Harvard victory.