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Numbers game

While Courtney Vernon’s rankings have been erratic all season, one thing hasn’t: her play.

With a team best 15-0 record in singles competition, Vernon, a sophomore, is on the verge of earning an invitation to the NCAA singles tournament at the end of the season. In the history of the USF women’s tennis program, only seven women’s tennis players have made the tournament, which pits the top 64 singles players in the country against each other.

According to the latest Intercollegiate Tennis Association Rankings, Vernon is ranked No. 90. Although rankings change weekly, her coaches are up in arms about the placement.

“She deserves to make the NCAAs. I don’t think it’s fair the way she’s being treated,” assistant coach Sorin Cherebetiu said. “At the end of the season, her ranking will bounce back to where it belongs. The only one that matters is the final ranking.”

The past 10 weeks have seen Vernon ranked 75, 120, 104, 116, 124, 97, 38, 57, unranked and 90. The rankings are a reflection of the quality of opponents a player has faced.

“With our ranking system, a player’s points depends upon their opponents’ rankings,” said Marshall Kuresman, coordinator of ITA women’s tennis rankings. “She’s had some quality wins, but her opponents have been all over the place, and that’s why her rankings have been up and down. It’s not always in your control; it depends on who you’ve played.”

With two regular-season matches remaining and the Big East Tournament looming, Vernon has a chance to go undefeated and break the school record for consecutive wins. Laura Garcia won 23 straight in 1983 and owns the record with 30 wins in a season.

But going undefeated doesn’t guarantee Vernon a spot in the NCAA Tournament. Uzma Kahn was 24-0 for UC-Santa Barbara in 2003 but was ranked No. 87 during selection time for the tournament. Kahn’s record is the best not to qualify for the NCAA singles tournament.

“My goal was to make the NCAA (Tournament), but that’s something that I can’t control,” Vernon said. “I’m doing the best I can, and the only thing I can control is each match that I play. Hopefully by the end of the year my ranking will be good enough.”

During the preseason Vernon lost two matches, one to Iowa’s Milica Veselinovic and the other to teammate Neyssa Etienne in an invitational tournament. Those losses are what led to her fast start this season.

“(After losing two pre-season matches) I was mad; I can’t stand losing,” Vernon said. “I hadn’t played in a tournament for a few weeks, and getting back into rhythm took a while. I hate losing, so that just got me focused coming into the regular season.”

The only Bull with tournament experience is Etienne, who plays at the team’s No. 1 position. Last season she received an invitation to the tournament, but lost to No. 13 Zerene Reyes of Florida. If Etienne can hold on to her No. 64 ranking and Vernon’s ranking improves, they can be the first USF duo since 1986 to qualify.

“It’s an honor to be selected to the NCAAs; to be one of the 64 best at something is nice,” Etienne said. “(Vernon) is a great player. Everyone else better watch out for her. She’s an amazing player, and she’s going to get better every year.”