Eight members of the UF men's tennis team will make their 2008 debuts at the Southeastern Conference Coaches' Indoor Championships in New Orleans, which begins Thursday and lasts until Monday.
The Gators will look to get as many matches under their belts as they can before beginning dual-match play on Jan. 27.
"It's a lot like the fall, where we're just trying to develop and get ready for the dual-match season," UF coach Andy Jackson said.
The team will face a challenging field of players from other SEC teams, six of whom are ranked in the Intercollegiate Tennis Association preseason top 25.
Jackson said the tournament will only help the team find out where they stand and what they'll need to work on before the season begins.
"What I'd like to see is how those guys are progressing towards being able to play on a top-15 or top-10 team," he said.
Jackson is also aware of the conference's strength.
"It's great to play in the SEC because it's the best," he said. "Certainly it's a big advantage for us to be in this league."
UF hasn't played in a tournament since Nov. 4, but Jackson said regaining "match toughness" is something every team must go through.
The Gators will likely field four freshmen, including Alex Lacroix, who won the Seminole Invitational in November.
"He is the freshman that had the best fall," Jackson said. "I certainly think that he can play on a top-10 team, and I'm expecting him to have a chance to do well at this tournament. But we've got a number of guys that can do well at this tournament that would have a chance to win it … and he's one of 'em."
Despite playing so many freshmen, UF still received a No. 14 ranking in the ITA preseason poll, which was released Jan. 8.
"Yeah, it means something to me," Jackson said. "It's nice to be top 15. Certainly that's not our goal at Florida. But we're probably going to play four freshmen in our top six, so to start out top 15 says that even though they don't have any experience they're pretty well thought of. We're excited to start there, but by the end of the year we'd like to be higher, obviously."
UF will face early tests this season, beginning its home schedule with Furman and then traveling to Miami.
But Jackson said that while he would prefer getting off to a fast start, that isn't the most important thing for his team to worry about, especially with a plethora of young players.
"What I think is most important is that we play well in April and May," Jackson said. "We've had a history around here of sort of doing that and we're going to try to do it again this year."