Loud and proud
West Florida making noise again at NCAA championship
SURPRISE, Ariz. -- Boisterous defines the on-court personality of the University of West Florida men’s tennis team, which was plenty loud following Thursday’s quarterfinal victory in the 2013 NCAA Division II Men’s Tennis Championship.
Having dispatched No. 14 UC San Diego 5-1, the No. 3-ranked Argonauts -- or Argos -- gathered on a court and yelled their way through a favorite chant.
Led by sophomore Elio Latella, the words “Nobody will beat us! Nobody!” boomed through a section of the Surprise Tennis & Racquet Complex.
“He has a deep voice so he can scream very loud,” senior Kevin Ducros said of Latella, who might be loud enough to be heard from his native Sydney, Australia.
That voice and those of other Argos probably wafted to another section of courts, where No. 2 Armstrong Atlantic and Midwestern State played a Thursday quarterfinal. Armstrong prevailed 5-0, which sets up a Friday semifinal match with West Florida.
Not any semifinal. Armstrong and West Florida last met in the 2012 title match in Louisville, Ky., which Armstrong won 5-0. The bridesmaids haven’t forgotten.
“We just think about that match and we just want to play them again,” said Ducros, the Argos' No. 1 singles player. “That’s why we’ve been working hard the past year, to play that match [Friday]. So we’re going to be there and ready to fight.”
West Florida head coach Derrick Racine detailed the specifics: A Feb. 8 regular-season match was cancelled due to weather, and both teams’ current rosters have changed since last May. Combatants in the tough Division II South Region, West Florida and Armstrong usually battle regularly, but haven’t seen each other in a year.
“We don’t really know each other’s teams,” Racine said of his counterpart, Armstrong head coach Simon Earnshaw. “They got some new guys since last year and we’ve got a couple new faces on our team. So it’s going to be different faces and different people out there, but still the same jerseys, so it’ll be fun.”
As two of the nation’s best, West Florida and Armstrong know their way around an NCAA championship. Armstrong’s Pirates are seeking their fourth national title in six years. The Argos won back-to-back titles in 2004 and ’05. The Pirates are on a 14-match winning streak; the Argos have a 22-match streak. Both teams have lost only once this season -- to current No. 1 Barry.
“You can not relax in any minute,” Ducros said. “At every point you have to do your best and play hard. You have to play tough from the first point to the end. So that’s very tough. That’s very good, actually, because we can enjoy it and play our best.”
“You’ve got to be in the top two or three in the nation just to get out of our region,” Racine said, ticking off school names. “So if you make it to this stage and you come out of the region, you feel like you should win it. And if you’re in an easy region, you’re not as prepared as much for the tough competition when the time comes around. I think it’s better to be in the tough region.”
Certainly, it toughens vocal cords.
“We try to be as loud as we can,” Ducros said of the Argos’ exuberance. “We’re very loud. We need it to win.”
Per Racine, the team’s No. 2 singles player, junior Bruno Savi from Brazil, is West Florida’s loudest leader. Count in Latella then Ducros, who leads more by example.
“He doesn’t want to sit on the couch and just relax,” Racine said of Ducros.
The latter has a bit of “Gipper” in him. A reconstruction of both major ligaments and the meniscus in his right knee as a junior led him to redshirt status. He’ll return as a graduate assistant to Racine next season, and even now, grits his teeth through matches.
“The pain is pretty tough and I can’t play my best,” Ducros said. “I cannot play as good as I was playing my first and second year, but I hang in there.”
He can yell, and tell on teammates. Savi has been dubbed the "Showman.”
“He does just crazy stuff on the courts,” Ducros said. “He’s so talented a player. And we have ‘Flash’ -- Elio. He’s the one who does the cheers for us. That’s the two icons, really, of the team.
A native of Aix-en-Provence, France, Ducros might be underselling himself.
“He’s a good leader for us and has a good work ethic and all the guys respect him,” Racine said. “It’ll be good to have him around.”
Ducros already is scripting his future by pursuing a master's degree in business. Scripting a championship swan song could be more difficult.
“Winning the national championship my last year -- fifth year -- after coming back from the injury, that would be perfect,” Ducros said.