When coach Bryan Shelton and his tennis team aren’t practicing and preparing for upcoming tournaments, they spend their time together engaged in another highly competitive activity: Spikeball.

It’s a sport similar to handball, except players throw a ball against a trampoline.

“It’s two-against-two and these guys get after it,” Shelton said. “There’s a lot of trash talking and there’s a lot of fun with it.”

Games like spikeball and Kan Jam — another popular game among the team — foster the camaraderie among the teammates.

“You see that they really enjoy one another,” Shelton said. “They’re a competitive group, but they work well together.”

Since four freshmen have been added onto UF’s roster this Fall, forming team chemistry is a necessity. And through games like spikeball, Shelton is hoping that freshmen like David Sarkissov and Stephen Madonia will be more comfortable playing in events like the Bedford Cup this weekend, along with junior Jordan Belga. The first round begins today in Tampa.

Belga put on an impressive performance last weekend, winning the singles title in his draw at the Duke James Bonk Invitational over North Carolina’s Joshua Peck 7-6, 6-1.

“You’d like to see him consolidate that win with another solid performance, so hopefully he can carry some of that momentum from last week forward into this week,” Shelton said. “It’s not easy to do.”

And for Sarkissov and Madonia, the Bedford Cup is a chance for them to improve their performance from the Duke Invite, where Sarkissov finished in 15th place in singles while Madonia had a 13th place finish.

“They didn’t certainly play as well as they wanted to last week at Duke,” Shelton said, “so it’s just another opportunity for them to make some corrections with things they didn’t do well a week ago and handle the situations a little bit better this weekend.”

Additionally, seven Gators will be competing in the 49th annual Southern Intercollegiate Tournament: freshmen Joseph Guillin and Johannes Ingildsen, sophomores McClain Kessler and Alfredo Perez, junior Chase Perez-Blanco and seniors Maxx Lipman and Elliott Orkin. The tournament, beginning today, will be held in Athens, Georgia. It is the first time these players will have a chance to compete this fall.

Orkin is coming off a year in which he boasted an overall singles record of 30-14 along with an overall doubles record of 20-13. Perez-Blanco put up a tournament singles record of 15-4 last year.

With talented upperclassmen getting back in action and the addition of several freshmen, these Fall tournaments will be a time for the players to further develop their individual skills and team chemistry.

“We use this fall to just get better to develop and get as far along as we possibly can before our real season, which starts in the spring,” Shelton said.

“So we are just using every practice, every match, as a means to get ready for the spring when we get to compete together as a team."

Contact Cassie Amundson at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter @camundson_.

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