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Women’s tennis waiting for the future

For the USF women’s tennis team, the future is now.

This season, the Bulls made an impressive Big East debut, finishing runner-up in the conference tournament to Notre Dame and having three players named to the all-tournament team.

Now, Courtney Vernon and the doubles team of Neyssa Etienne and Gabriela Duch are traveling to California to participate in the NCAA Tournament, which pits the top 64 singles and doubles players in the country against each other.

First-year coach Agustin Moreno exceeded most expectations in the team’s first year in its new conference. Fielding a roster of only six, the Bulls had three players finish the season ranked in the top 90. USF started the season as the No. 58 team in the country, and impressive wins over Kentucky, Florida International and Louisville helped the Bulls end the season at No. 40. Finishing with an overall record of 17-6, USF qualified for its first NCAA team tournament berth in six years.

In the team tournament, the Bulls earned their first-ever victory with a 4-0 shutout of No. 33 Maryland. They won in typical fashion, capturing the doubles point and then counting on Etienne and Vernon to win their singles matches. The Bulls’ season ended with a 4-0 loss to Florida, the No. 4 team in the country.

“Our goal now is to keep improving and exceed what we did this year,” Moreno said. “We qualified to be one of the 32 final teams in the country. Just continuing to get better is the goal for us; hopefully we can take it one step further and make the final 16 next year.”

Now, the top individual players and doubles parings face off to see who is the best player and duo in the nation. Vernon, a sophomore, will represent USF in singles competition after compiling an impressive 20-0 record this season and became the only USF player to finish undefeated.

Etienne and Duch are ranked as the No. 9 doubles players in the country. The three players await the selection of their opponents, as the singles championship tournament begins Tuesday, while the doubles championship starts Wednesday.

According to Moreno, his team’s success and the move to the Big East has made recruiting easier. Moreno must now face the difficult task of replacing Etienne, who played at the team’s No. 1 slot and recorded a 13-7 record this season.

“Losing (Etienne) next year will be tough for us,” Moreno said. “After the year we had this year, players are interested in coming to USF. Now I’m recruiting for an up-and-coming national contender. I expect to have some of the best players to come here to Tampa.”

The Bulls have already received a letter of intent from one of the top international recruits, Jessica Sweeting. A native of the Bahamas, Sweeting has compiled an impressive resume that includes victories over Giulia Gabba and Andrea Remynse, the No. 15 and 41 players in the world, respectively.

“Our future is looking bright,” Moreno said. “Hopefully we have a big tournament and gain even more recognition. (USF tennis) will be among the top in the nation – this is just the beginning.”