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For men’s team, the wait is over

The Bulls have been looking forward to the Big East championships all year.

“I’m pretty excited about the Big East,” said sophomore Lucas Jovita, the
Bulls’ No. 1 player. “The whole team should be (excited). Every conference match is hard … we’ve got to be 120 percent. It’s going to be hard, because everybody is going to want to beat us.”

The No. 3 seed South Florida men’s tennis team will host the tournament for its fourth time at the USF Varsity Tennis Courts.

While the first round starts today, USF (11-8) faces No. 6 seed St. John’s (10-9) at noon Friday. The Bulls defeated the Red Storm 4-3 on March 12 in Tampa.

USF will get a boost from the returning Thomas Estrada, who missed three matches after suffering a wrist injury. He had a cortisone shot last week.

“I’m still kind of sore, but the pain is almost gone — almost completely gone,” Estrada said.

Jovita and Estrada, the No. 40 doubles pair in the nation, will play together.Sophomore Romain Deridder replaced Estrada while he was injured.

“(Estrada) and I communicate really well,” Jovita said. “He’s a really good doubles player and I’m looking forward to it. I played well with (Deridder). He played really well, but me and Thomas is me and Thomas.”

The Bulls have five freshmen who will experience their first college conference championship.

“I’m really excited because it’s the biggest tournament,” Deridder said. “It’s a very big tournament. I don’t know exactly what to feel. I really hope that we’re going to do good.”

In contrast to the freshmen, it could be the last time the team’s lone senior, Mahmoud Hamed, plays college tennis if he does not make it to the NCAAs.

“The Big East is everything,” Hamed said.

Coach Don Barr said he’s tried to prepare his young players for the tournament all year.

“For some (players), this is their season right here,” Barr said. “The only way they can get into the NCAAs is to win this tournament, so they’re going to be playing their best tennis. We can’t come back relying on the way we’ve played in the past. We’ve got to come out with a lot more energy.”

No. 23 Louisville and No. 28 Notre Dame claim the top two seeds. Following USF is
No. 4 seed Marquette, No. 5 seed DePaul, St. John’s, No. 7 seed Georgetown, No. 8 seed Villanova and No. 9 seed Connecticut.

Villanova and Connecticut play at 9 a.m. today. The winner will play Louisville at 9 a.m. Friday.

The winner of the USF and St. John’s match will play Notre Dame or Georgetown in the
semifinals at 9 a.m. Saturday.