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Net gains lead to a hair loss

Don Barr thought it was a safe enough bet.

Barr, the USF men's tennis coach, nixed the idea of his team members shaving their heads as a sign of solidarity at the beginning of the season.

"I told them instead, if we won the conference tournament, I'd shave my head," Barr said. "At the time, it seemed like a safe bet."

But it didn't work out that way.

Not only did the Bulls shrug off their No. 3 seeding at the three-day Conference USA Tournament April 20 in New Orleans to win the title, they did it in dramatic fashion with a comeback 4-3 victory in the final against Louisville.

"The hair is just starting to grow back," said Barr, who gladly lived up to his end of the bargain when the team returned from the tournament last week. "But I was happy to do it. Especially after the way we won. The guys worked so hard, so it was well worth it."

After tying the Cardinals at 3, the title came down to one match: No. 5 Silviu Nistor against Louisville's Chris Steel.

But the Bulls' chances seemed to be slipping away as Steel won the first set and held a 5-1 lead in the second. That's when Nistor stormed back to a 7-6 (7-5) win and repeated a set later when he rallied from a 5-2 deficit to win 7-5.

The Bulls got straight-set singles wins from junior Brian Lit and freshman Aleks Popovic and doubles wins from the teams of Nistor and Fabio Tintori, and Boris Babic and Popovic.

But the title seemed more improbable after the slow start the Bulls had this season. After a fall season that Barr described as "bad," USF endured an early season slump. Injuries also played a part right up to the tournament, where Matt Guyaux and Jay Shaw went down with ankle sprains.

Still, Barr said he saw progress as USF won its third conference title in his six years at the school.

"One good thing about having a young team is that there is room for development," said Barr, who has three freshmen among his top six players. "Sometimes if you have a team of older players they have a tendency to peak. But that's the exciting thing about these guys, they've just gotten so much better."

That improvement has come at the right time as the Bulls await notification regarding the NCAA regionals May 15-17. Despite the conference crown, USF still must be invited to the NCAAs due to college tennis' lack of automatic bids. However, the Bulls expect to be invited to the regionals in Lexington, Ky., when the field is announced Tuesday.

Popovic made the all-conference first team, announced Thursday, and was named C-USA Freshman of the Year, and Barr was named conference coach of the year. Babic, Guyaux, Nistor and Tintori made the second team.

"There is a lot of respect for this team out there," Barr said. "We saw that at the conference tournament. We have a good, solid team with some explosive players.

"Once we get to the tournament, who knows, anything can happen."