By TOM ZEBOLD
USF Senior Writer
TAMPA - The USF men's tennis team is on mission to become great and fun stuff like Coca-Cola, hamburgers and cookies won't be coming along for the ride.
The program took a big step in the right direction by bringing in head coach Matt Hill, an SEC veteran, and assistant Brandon Wagner, a national champion with Georgia, after last season. The duo spent the fall discovering USF's strengths and immediately started to eliminate anything that could prohibit the Bulls from reaching elite status.
"The discipline that it takes to be at that level is much higher than the average team," Hill said. "You can't drink Coke on the road and think that you'll be able to play the next day without getting dehydrated. You can't eat hamburgers the night before or cookies when the hotel gives it to you for free."
The Bulls are currently in the next phase of the journey - match discipline - and a prime teaching point came in Los Angeles late last month. The Bulls had just lost a match to BYU in the opening round of national indoor qualifying when someone said, "We almost had them."
"No, you didn't have them," Hill told the team. "You put yourself into a position to possibly win, but the decisions you make in those moments, you're going to lose a lot more than you're going to win."
The moments Hill was talking about include before and after a player competes for points.
"Tennis, you're out there for two hours, but really you're only playing 30 minutes of that," Hill said. "In between the points, when you're walking around between playing and you're sitting on your bench, that's where the match is truly played at a high level. That's foreign to some of these guys."
Hill said USF's players have been very receptive to the key information coaches are dishing out about the mental game.
"We've talked a lot about the difference between a team that is No. 25 in the country, No. 50 in the country, No. 5 in the country," Hill said. "They're getting to understand the differences between those teams and this team, and why we are where we are."
The No. 55 Bulls as a whole know the road to greatness takes time, but the lessons picked up along the way prepare players for much more than tennis.
"The great thing about an individual sport is a lot of what you learn can be applied later on - it's all on you," Hill said. "You're learning how to manage pressure, deal with adversity and have healthy disciplines that can help you in anything."
Fans can watch the Bulls continue to progress on the court Friday afternoon. USF takes on North Florida at 2 p.m. and admission is free all regular season at the USF Varsity Courts.