Barr, Bulls get Blue Gray invitation

Despite injuries to key players, the No. 44 University of South Florida men’s tennis team defeated top-ranked teams — including Florida State and Miami — earning rankings as high as No. 27 in the nation.

The Bulls’ hard work has paid off.

USF has earned a spot in the Blue Gray National Tennis Classic held March 2010 in Montgomery, Ala. The event will feature 16 teams and is the second-oldest tennis competition in the country.

“It’s probably one of the biggest team tournaments in the country other than the NCAAs,” said USF coach Don Barr. “It’s a privilege to be invited. It’s a good sign.”

This is the third time Barr — the longest tenured coach at USF — has taken the Bulls to the tournament.

“We never really got to the finals, so those would be a nice new experience,” he said. “They have very good teams.”

No. 43 Virginia Commonwealth, No. 18 Arizona and No. 20 Notre Dame are among the tournament’s participants USF has faced this year.

The Bulls have two ranked singles players: Sophomore Lucas Jovita, USF’s No. 1 player, ranks No. 75 and freshman Wael Kilani ranks No. 97 — his first collegiate ranking.

Junior Thomas Estrada and Jovita, USF’s No. 1 doubles team, rank No. 44.

When USF struggled in doubles, freshman Yannick Yoshizawa replaced Romain Deridder as Kilani’s partner. Yoshizawa and Kilani hold a 6-3 doubles record.

“I’m really happy because it will be my second year here,” Yoshizawa said. “I’m excited about this program.

Losing only one senior this year, Barr said his team will be prepared for the tournament.

“I see the team getting strong and bond together,” Barr said. “That’s part of learning that first year … I see a big growth in our team experience this year … That’s going to help us in the future.”