By TOM ZEBOLD
USF Senior Writer
TAMPA, APRIL 23, 2014 – The USF women’s tennis team has jumped 10 spots to No. 31 in the ITA rankings and the Bulls are hungry for much more following their American Athletic Conference title victory.
“That’s a great jump. I’ve said it before, I think this team is better than its ranking and it’s still better than its ranking,” head coach Agustin Moreno said. “We’re going to the NCAA’s and I know we’ll be playing highly ranked teams and we’re going to get our chances there.”
USF (18-3) will begin its national title pursuit when the NCAA Division I Championship gets underway Friday, May 9 at designated sites and the Bulls will have plenty of confidence on their side. USF extended its program record winning streak to 15 matches by defeating top-seeded Houston, 4-2, in The American championship match Sunday while improving to 13-0 at home.
“It’s been two years that we’ve been very close. One time we were one out, so this is so great,” Moreno said. “I think we have a team that will do well in the NCAA tournament.”
Moreno has said this version of the Bulls has been his favorite to coach in his nine seasons with the program and a mix of youth and veteran talent helped USF capture its second American Athletic Conference championship in the league’s first year. The USF men’s soccer team won the conference tournament in November and the USF men’s tennis team seized American title No. 3 just hours after Moreno’s group carried the trophy off the court in Tampa.
“It’s been great and for sure it’s been because of their mentality,” Moreno said. “They have a fighting mentality. They’re so willing to fight and we have a bright future ahead.”
Houston took a 1-0 lead Sunday before some of Moreno’s newest players helped the Bulls take the momentum back with USF President Judy Genshaft and many others on hand for support.
“I think we’re a stronger singles team than doubles. I told them we’re a singles team and we’ve done it many times before,” Moreno said.
“New additions brought a lot of character and it became contagious,” Moreno said.
Senior Loreto Alonso-Martinez, the team’s third player from Spain, gave the Bulls the lead with a 7-5, 6-4 victory in the top singles position.
“The three Spanish girls came right back and won in two sets and they were really quick. Loreto won a tough first set,” Moreno said.
Two USF players were left on the court with the title there for the taking and Vera Bessonova made sure the trophy didn’t head to Houston with the Cougars. The freshman from Moscow, Russia got past Rocio Martin, 7-6, in the first set and was mobbed by teammates after finishing strong with a 6-1 win in the second set.
“The thing that is most impressive is we have a bunch of fighters on our team,” Moreno said.
The fight will go on thanks to a stellar performance by the Bulls, who look to stay in a groove heading into NCAA play. Moreno gave the team a day off Monday and said USF plans to stay sharp leading up to the Selection Show on April 29. Fans can find out the Bulls’ postseason path at 5:30 p.m. during the show that will air on NCAA.com.
“We’re going to keep going. I might give them the weekend off, but that’s about it,” he said. “They need the rest right now, but they told me they’ve very excited for the NCAA’s.”