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Thursday, March 23, 2023

UF women's tennis coach Roland Thornqvist will eye his former colors this weekend when his team takes a trip down Tobacco Road.

Thornqvist, who played at North Carolina from 1990-93 and coached there from 1999-2001, will try to knock off his alma mater on Sunday.

In just his first season at the helm in Chapel Hill, Thornqvist led an inexperienced UNC team to its first-ever NCAA berth. His next stop after three years at his school was UF.

"It's always special. It's just a place - you know, the indoor center where I played as a student athlete, and they've got banners up," Thornqvist said. "I'm going to have tons of friends to come out to watch. So it's always fun to be back up here, especially if you win, obviously."

Thornqvist's Gators will have their hands full with his former school, but before his team gets the chance to play UNC, the No. 6 Gators must first make a stop about 20 minutes up the road.

UF will square off against No. 15 Duke on Friday before taking on the No. 5 Tar Heels two days later.

Thornqvist said each match will present its own unique challenges, but he added that one of the biggest things his team will have to overcome is playing in the indoor arenas.

"We've always been a pretty good road team," he said. "But being on the road and playing indoors at a place that we haven't played very many times, the court situation is probably the toughest thing. It's not being on the road per say, it's just the arena we're playing in, and getting used to that is probably our biggest challenge."

UF defeated both the Tar Heels and the Blue Devils in Gainesville last season, 4-3 and 6-1, respectively, but weren't as fortunate against UNC two years ago in Chapel Hill, losing 4-3.

"We didn't have very much good luck two years ago when we were up there playing them," Thornqvist said. "That was a bad day, obviously, me being an alum and all that. I know my friends watched that drama. So I'm hoping that we can perform better this year around."

UNC skyrocketed ahead of the Gators from No. 14 to No. 5 in the rankings this week after beating then-No. 2 UCLA and then-No. 8 Southern California in consecutive days last week at the Intercollegiate Tennis Association National Indoors.

The Tar Heels' run came to end on Saturday, however, when they fell to No. 2 Northwestern in the semifinals.

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UF hasn't played in a match since Feb. 7 against Troy because its match against South Florida was canceled on Tuesday due to rain. It was the fourth time in this early season that the Gators' match was postponed and the third because of bad weather.

Weather won't be an issue for UF this weekend playing in indoor arenas. Instead, the Gators must face two teams that are certainly capable of knocking them off.

Thornqvist knows that the task at hand won't be easy, but he's willing to draw positives any way he can.

"It's going to be the two toughest matches we play all year really," he said. "Win or lose, we're going to really be tested. No matter what, it's going to be a good thing for us."

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