As sometimes is the case in NCAA Division II men’s tennis, Barry University signed Ahmed Triki without having ever met him in person or seen him play.
Instead, the Bucs relied on junior rankings, videos, scouting reports from valued sources and phone conversations with the native of Tunisia.
Once Triki arrived at Barry this fall, veteran coach George Samuel thought his freshman was overrated.
“His fitness was very poor,” Samuel said. “He had probably taken some months off, and it was hard for him to breathe. When you can’t move, you can’t play good tennis.
“Our lowest-ranked guys were beating him. I said, ‘Well, let’s hope this is just a fitness thing.’ ”
Once Triki got back in shape, he vaulted all the way to Barry’s No. 1 singles player, which is impressive because the Buccaneers are the defending national champions in NCAA Division II and are ranked No. 1 again this season.
Barry recently beat No. 8 St. Leo’s 8-1 and No. 2 Armstrong Atlantic 6-3, and Triki earned straight-set wins in each match. For the season, he is 6-0 in singles at 7-1 in doubles.
As a team, Barry has won 39 matches in a row. They are favored to win their third national title — they also won in 2010.
Last season’s team had the first perfect record for Barry in any sport. But the Bucs graduated their two best players — Marco Mokrzycki and Max Wimmer, who were both two-time national champs.
Enter Fred Bonal, in his first year as a full-time assistant coach at Barry. Although Samuel admits he didn’t even know where Tunisia was, Bonal was aware and had connections in the region. He was told about Triki and was the point man in his recruitment.
Triki, who was named the Sunshine State Conference Player of the Week for for two weeks in a row in February, is joined by another freshman, Germany’s Nico Dreer, among Barry’s top six singles players this year.
The other four are veterans of last year’s title run: German junior Fabian Groetsch, who is ranked 12th in Division II, French senior Romain Costamanga; Venezuelan senior Leo Vivas; and Spanish senior Kevin Sielmann.
Vivas, who is ranked 37th, was the hero of last year’s championship match against Armstrong, battling from behind to give Barry the final point it needed.
In doubles, Triki and Groetsch are ranked 14th, Vivas and Costamanga pair up, and Ollie Lemaitre, a senior from Spain, and Renato Lombardi, a sophomore from Switzerland, round out the lineup.
Besides sheer talent, Barry has another advantage in that it has three left-handers in its lineup — Vivas, Groetsch and Lemaitre.
“The ball comes off with reverse spin,” Samuel said. “It’s a different chip and slice that opponents have to adjust to.”
MIAMI DADE COLLEGE
On Wednesday in Ocala, the men’s basketball team (21-9) will make its first appearance at the state tournament since 2007. The winner of the eight-team tournament qualifies for nationals. In the first round, MDC plays St. Petersburg.
MDC, which is 2-0 against St. Petersburg this season, is led by Utah State recruit Darius Perkins, who is averaging 18.8 points. Two other MDC players made first-team all-conference: Michael Calder (11.9 points, 4.9 assists) and Tre Boutilier (10.9 points, 8.9 rebounds).