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Thursday, March 23, 2023

It wasn't the performance he had in mind, but UF men's tennis coach Andy Jackson was encouraged by his team's play during the weekend at the ITA Southeast Regional in Lexington, Ky.

The Gators put four players in the tournament's singles round of 32 and one in the round of 16, but despite some close matches, they never achieved the breakthrough win they had hoped for.

"Across the board, most of the guys had something that was encouraging," Jackson said. "And even when we were losing, we were losing close."

The Gators were without their likely best player, senior Greg Ouellette, due to food poisoning and a recurring ankle injury.

Because Ouellette had already qualified for the upcoming ITA National Intercollegiate Indoor Championships, Jackson said he did not want to push him during the weekend's tournament.

Freshman Tyler Hochwalt went the farthest into the draw, winning two straight-set matches before falling in a three-set battle to LSU's Ian Zelezny, 7-6 (0), 4-6, 6-4.

The Gators' youth and inexperience played a part in the tournament, as four of eight that made the trip were freshmen.

Jackson indicated this was the source of his encouragement.

"We have a lot of talent," he said. "We just don't have a lot of experience. We can definitely do better, but we're on the right track."

UF brought plenty of youth to the doubles court with more encouraging results.

Two pairings, made up of three freshmen and a senior, won three matches and advanced to the quarterfinal round before bowing out.

Senior Nestor Briceno teamed up with freshman Alex Lacroix on one team, and freshmen Johnny Hamui and Jeff Dadamo comprised the other.

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"To have two teams in the quarters without your best guy, it's definitely encouraging," Jackson said. "We're going to be better in doubles this year than we were last year."

Jackson said individual tournaments like this will help the Gators prepare for their upcoming season and Southeastern Conference play.

"In the SEC - where basically every team's in the top 25 - you need to learn in a hurry," Jackson said. "Otherwise, we're going to be losing."

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