American Champ Bulls Rise to No. 22 in ITA Ranks
By TOM ZEBOLD
USF Senior Writer
TAMPA, APRIL 22, 2014 – The USF men’s tennis team has been rewarded for accomplishing one of the goals the Bulls set at the beginning of the season.
USF has earned the highest national ranking in program history by coming in at No. 22 in Tuesday’s ITA poll after winning the American Athletic Conference championship on Sunday.
“I think it’s a reflection of how hard these guys have been working,” head coach Matt Hill said. “We’re excited about it but we have bigger goals than that, that’s for sure.”
What makes USF’s title win extra impressive is the way the Bulls handled a tough situation against an extremely talented Memphis team, which hosted the American Athletic Conference Championship. Hill said the top-seeded Tigers’ roster included five seniors that helped the program win the Conference USA championship last year. Memphis went on to win at Ole Miss in the NCAA Regionals and advanced to the Sweet 16.
On the other hand, USF’s roster is made up senior Federico Sabogal, junior Oliver Pramming, sophomores Roberto Cid, Everth Dzib, Ignacio Gonzalez-Muniz and Finn Meinecke, along with freshmen Sasha Gozun, Vadym Kalyuzhnyy and Paul Polarczyk.
“Basically you have a group of guys that are new to college tennis. Some of them have only played college tennis for three or four months now,” Hill said.
USF (18-6) wrapped up its regular season with a 4-3 loss at Memphis on April 13 and faced more adversity in Sunday’s title match. Memphis clinched the first point by winning in doubles, but the Bulls bounced back with wins by Cid (ranked 45th in the nation), Sabogal and Gozun in the No. 1, 6 and 3 singles positions.
Memphis tied the score up at 3 by winning in the fourth and fifth singles positions, which left the match in the hands of Pramming at No. 2 singles. The 6-foot-3 junior from Denmark dropped his first set before roaring back during a 4-6, 6-4, 6-4 victory that gave the USF men’s squad a conference title just hours after the USF women won it all at the USF Varsity Courts.
“It was impressive to see our team that lost to Memphis the week before regroup and beat them on a bigger stage in that moment under those conditions,” Hill said.
Hill had full confidence in his Bulls heading into the conference tournament because of what he’s seen from them all season long.
“I will say that probably the one thing that’s stood out to me as the year has progressed is we have a group of guys that are really listening and learning from losses and they’re listening and learning even when they’re winning, which has accelerated the process more than maybe your average, everyday team,” Hill said.
“We told these guys early if they’re only going to learn from us when we lose it’s going to take longer,” Hill added. “They’ve really applied things even after wins. We were happy after those wins, but you can still learn from winning in areas you can get better at and they’ve taken that to heart. They’ve grown a lot in just a few months and we’re really excited about the national championships.”
USF’s next order of business will be the NCAA Division I Championship that begins Friday, May 9 at designated sites. If the Bulls can make it through the first two rounds they’ll head to Athens, Ga., for the third round and beyond at the University of Georgia’s Dan Magil Tennis Complex.
Hill said the Bulls will get a few days off from action on the court following their conference championship win, but they’ll continue to work in the gym before fine-tuning their games leading up to NCAA play.
“It’s important to get away from the court right now because it is such a long break,” Hill said. “Then we’ll get them really hungry to get back on the court and really highlight areas of strength during training the next week and a half. They’ll clean up and sharpen those weapons of how they’re winning against great players.”