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Wednesday, February 28, 2024

Looks can be deceiving in the Southeastern Conference.

In a match that had many postseason implications, the UF men's tennis team got a tougher-than-expected test from a lowly South Carolina team.

The No. 8 Gators (13-6, 8-3 SEC) edged the last-place Gamecocks 4-3 Saturday, with all four UF points coming in three-set singles victories.

With the win, the Gators secured the No. 4 seed and a first-round bye in this week's SEC Tournament, which starts Thursday in Fayetteville, Ark.

The UF women's team had an easier time with South Carolina, defeating the Gamecocks 4-0 Saturday to cap off the Gators' 17th undefeated conference season.

UF (18-1, 11-0 SEC) earned the top seed and a first-round bye in the SEC Tournament, which also starts Thursday but will be played at Auburn.

The men's win over South Carolina (10-12, 1-10 SEC) may have been even more crucial, however, as it improved UF's chances of hosting the NCAA Tournament first and second rounds, something the women have likely already locked up.

"It looks like South Carolina - gosh, they don't have a very good ranking, they don't have a very good record," UF men's coach Andy Jackson said. "But my guys know how good South Carolina is, and South Carolina knows how good they are as well.

"They have severely underachieved. They could've beaten any team in the league. They easily could've beaten us [Saturday], and we won because our guys were tougher."

The Gators were forced to shift their lineup after injuries plagued senior Greg Ouellette and freshman Jeff Dadamo.

Jackson is hopeful the duo will be healthy when UF plays its quarterfinal match in the SEC Tournament on Friday.

"We probably won't know that much about it until Monday," Jackson said. "But I do think we have a decent chance anyway to be at 100 percent by Friday."

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Despite not being at full strength, Ouellette celebrated his Senior Day with a 6-7 (7), 6-3, 6-2 victory.

Three-set wins by freshmen Erik Corace (6-4, 3-6, 6-1), Tyler Hochwalt (5-7, 6-3, 6-4) and Johnny Hamui (6-4, 6-7 (5), 6-3) clinched the match for UF after the Gators were swept off the doubles courts.

"It was just toughness and willpower," Jackson said. "Those guys just really played tough under quite a bit of pressure.

"I think this match was more important for toughness than confidence. I think that we just had gotten away from that a little bit with the Alabama match [a 5-2 loss], and I think we re-established it (Saturday). That's something that you can't really read from the box score."

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