Even at half-strength, Juan Carlos Osorio is dangerous.
Hampered by a right-shoulder injury that severely reduced his serving speed, Florida Gulf Coast University's top singles player used a powerful ground game to beat St. Leo's Mike DiGiacomo 6-2, 6-1 on Sunday at the FGCU Tennis Complex.
Osorio, a senior from Ecuador, hurt his shoulder while making a serve in a doubles match earlier in the day. The injury wasn't enough to keep Division II's third-ranked singles player from finishing the match, but it did throw a scare into Eagles coach J. Webb Horton.
"I'm sure Phil Jackson didn't like to see Michael Jordan limping," Webb said.
"I served and I didn't know what happened," said Osorio. "I pulled out a muscle. It was bothering me a lot."
Osorio's service — nearly reduced to the pace of a slowpitch softball toss — was broken twice late in a 9-7 loss he and partner Tim Offerman suffered in the number one doubles match. It was the only match FGCU lost on the day.
Horton didn't have to worry about Osorio's singles match against DiGiacomo. Osorio made up for his depleted serving speed with several forehand winners.
"I just tried to put first serves in. I knew I could outgrind him with the strokes," said Osorio.
Osorio won the final two points of the match on a forehand cross-court winner and a lob. It was his eleventh consecutive victory in singles.
On Monday, Osorio was scheduled to face the nation's number one ranked player, Mattias Oddone of Drury University. The pair met last October in the ITA Division II Singles Championship which Oddone captured 6-4, 6-1.
Horton said Osorio has become stronger since last fall.
"He's hitting heavier balls," said Horton. "I think his volley has improved immensely. We do a lot of one-on-one doubles drills. He looked at me crazy early on, but then he realized that one-on-one doubles has really helped him in his singles game because I think he's being more aggressive at the mid-court game and picking up half-volleys and being able to execute on the transition game."
FGCU, whose only loss in 13 matches came against Lynn on Feb. 23, has also received strong play from newcomers Edson Lima of Brazil and Naples High graduate Danny Lee.
"Our two freshmen have really been stalwarts," said Horton. "They've been mature beyond their years. They've helped solidify the three doubles position for us."
In a recent match, Lima and Lee trailed 2-7, but rallied to win seven straight games and the match."
"I don't think they're freshman anymore," said Horton.
Lee is the lone player on the Eagles from Southwest Florida.
"We'd love to get more kids to stay in the area," said Horton. "When you get a kid like Danny Lee, who is a great kid, a quality kid, a great tennis player and coachable, it's going to show kids you don't have to go 100 miles away to be a star and play good tennis."
On FGCU's women's team, which Horton serves as interim coach, Maria Braniecka of Poland has come up big in singles at number one since transferring from Southern Methodist University. Braniecka made the jump because FGCU offers a major in human performance and SMU doesn't.
"She didn't play at lot of tennis last year at SMU," said Horton. "She's really worked on her fitness. Now we've just got to work on her patience. She has all the skills. She can grind. She can do it all."
As a left-hander, Braniecka can pose match-up problems. Such was the scenario Sunday when she breezed to a straight set victory against St. Leo.
"In Europe, I meet a lot of left tennis players," said Braniecka, "but here, there's not as many. This match today, it was a huge problem for my opponent."
After losing a match against Eckerd on March 14, Braniecka has won her next three matches to improve to 7-4.
"I wasn't very happy with the beginning of the season," she said. "A few of the matches were really bad, but I'm optimistic because I feel like I'm playing better and better from match to match."
As a team, the women improved to 8-3 after beating St. Leo, 9-0.
FGCU bounced back from consecutive losses to Toledo and Eckerd to post a 5-4 win against Division I George Washington on March 15. Maria Maggiorini from Argentina dropped the first set in her No. 2 singles match against GWU, but won the next two. In number three doubles, FGCU's Brett Kinley from Boynton Beach and Lydia Diaz-Galindo from Spain teamed-up for a 9-8 win.
"I'm very pleased with the women's team," said Horton. "They've really stepped up."