Bulls eye deep run

With one of the best seasons in school history behind them, the Bulls are primed for a deep Big East tournament run, women’s tennis coach Agustin Moreno says.

USF (10-6, 0-1) is the No. 2 seed in the 12-team field and earned a first-round bye, waiting until Friday at 9 a.m. to face the winner between seventh-seeded Rutgers (13-7, 7-3) and 10th-seeded Pittsburgh (10-7, 5-5).

Notre Dame (19-3, 3-0), the defending champions and tournament host, is the No. 1 seed. DePaul (16-4, 7-1) is No. 3.

“We are in a good position to win this tournament,” Moreno said. “Every team in it is tough to beat, but we feel that we have the talent and desire to get it done.”

The Bulls got an up-close and-personal look at Notre Dame, ranked No. 5 in the country, on April 9 – the last time they took the court. The Irish trounced USF 7-0, but Moreno said that served as a good learning experience for the squad.

“Even though it was a tough loss, we benefited greatly because we were able to get a feel for (Notre Dame) and took note of some of its players’ tendencies,” Moreno said. “And we had the lead in four singles and two doubles matches but just couldn’t finish the way we had hoped. Staying mentally tough and closing out matches is something we’ve been working on in practice.”

The Bulls are ranked No. 19 in the country and were ranked as high as No. 15 earlier this season. USF defeated seven ranked opponents and won six consecutive matches from March 6 until April 2 before dropping its last two contests.

“The camaraderie and team chemistry we have here is outstanding,” said senior Allyn Mueller, who is 11-10 in her matches this season. “We always fight to win matches for each other, which is very motivating because nobody wants to let the team down. We have a good blend of youth and experience, so any nerves we may feel will likely be gone by our second or third match.”

USF has received stellar play from its top singles player, Irene Rehberger, who is ranked No. 45 in the country with a 9-7 record. Rehberger and Melissa Koning, a senior transfer from Auburn, are No. 16 in doubles with an 11-5 mark.

“We can beat any team in the country if we maintain our energy and mental focus,” Mueller said. “Our shot variations can throw off a team such as Notre Dame, which is advantageous for us because we just recently played them and know what they like to do.”

Since joining the Big East, USF has played in four conference tournaments – reaching the finals in three. The Bulls won the 2007 title on their home court with an upset of then-No. 2 Notre Dame.

“Our program has beaten Notre Dame when they were ranked higher than they are now,” Moreno said. “We’re certainly in for a challenge, but we’ve been playing good tennis and have a great opportunity to bring the Big East title back home.”