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Bulls fight back to take AAC title

 

During an overcast Easter Sunday, chants of “Vamos, Vamos” filled the bleachers of the USF varsity tennis courts as the Bulls looked to overcome what looked like yet another conference championship letdown.

USF was a runner-up each of the last three years, until Sunday when the Bull became AAC conference champions.

After losing early in the doubles matches, the Bulls were able to storm back to beat top-seeded Houston, 4-2, on the heels of yet another dominating performance by senior Loreto Alonso-Martinez, who won in straight sets throughout the tournament.

“It was a tough match and I expected that because Houston is a good team,” Alonso-Martinez said. “I let myself go down, but I was able to increase the intensity and come back.”

After being down 0-1, freshman Olaya Garrido-Rivas was able to recapture some momentum by defeating Tina Rupert 6-3, 6-2 in the No. 3 singles position to tie the score at one apiece.

In a pivotal set, freshman Vera Bessonova was down most of her match, but after a strong charge and some heated play, she was able to close it out 7-6, 6-1 in the
clinching match.

After the 7-6 win USF coach Agustin Moreno said “from there, the momentum was all on her.”

It was a day of validation for a USF team that had won 12-straight matches leading into the tournament, their last loss coming at the hands of FSU on Jan. 31.

On the hunt for the conference championship, No. 41 USF (18-3) was able to knock off two ranked teams, including No.32 Houston and
No. 39 Memphis.

“Everybody feels pressure, but as I’ve told them, with winning 15-straight, we are more experienced when feeling nervous and they handled it very well,” Moreno said.

Houston had the advantage early on, but soon realized that beating the Bulls at home was no easy task with USF boasting a dominant 13-0 record at home.

“We always ask the fans to come out and support us and they really do,” Alonso said. “They are screaming and cheering for us and the home court advantage really helped us today.”

The home crowd, which included USF President Judy Genshaft and former Athletic Director Doug Woolard, were a part of that spark that fueled the historic win.

This is the fifth USF team that Moreno has coached to an NCAA bid and the second to win a conference title. After years of coming in second, the championship trophy is once again in Moreno’s hands and over his head.

“We are known as a team that fights hard and I’m so proud of that,” Moreno said. “There are a lot of things you can’t control, but fighting you can, and this team knows how to fight.”

The team clinched an NCAA Division I tournament automatic bid. The tournament will be held at the Dan Magil Tennis Complex in Athens, Ga. between May 15 and May 26.