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Sunday, March 03, 2024

Saturday's regular-season finale against South Carolina could not be more meaningful for the UF men's tennis team's present and future.

Before the team takes the courts at 10 a.m., it will celebrate Senior Day for Greg Ouellette and Nestor Briceno, two players who have made their mark on the UF program since they arrived.

"Both of those two boys have been monumental successes for four years," UF coach Andy Jackson said. "Their first year they won the (Southeastern Conference), won the SEC Tournament, went to the Final Four."

They continued to make history after that.

"Their second year they were ranked as high as No. 1 in the country, first time Florida's ever done that," Jackson said. "They finished top 10 in the country in terms of the NCAA Tournament all three years. They're top 10 right now. They obviously have set the bar very high and have been very good examples for the new guys that we have this year."

As if that weren't enough to set the stage, UF's postseason implications and destination hang in the balance.

"It's going to directly affect our chances to host a regional and also directly affect our seeding," Jackson said. "And it will also directly affect whether or not we get a bye at the SEC Tournament. So there's a lot at stake on Saturday."

Amid all these distractions, the No. 8 Gators (12-6, 7-3 SEC) will take on the No. 63 Gamecocks (9-12, 1-10 SEC), who Jackson said will challenge his team with their talent.

"They've been extremely inconsistent through the year, which actually makes it a little bit difficult to prepare for them," he said. "They were very competitive and almost beat Georgia, and then at the same time, they've been run out of some matches. So we're not really sure which team shows up."

The Gators are trying to recover from a 5-2 loss to Alabama on Monday.

Despite that loss, they managed to move up three spots in the Intercollegiate Tennis Association rankings, from No. 11 to No. 8.

Jackson said his team, which has played five freshmen throughout the season, has exceeded his expectations heading into its final regular-season match, just one week away from the postseason.

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"To this point, to be (No.) 8 in the country and 7-3 in the league and having a number of high-quality wins, I think it would have been not fair to them to set those things as goals at the beginning of the year for where we are right now," Jackson said.

He added that the goals the team made prior to the season were to finish ranked in the top 15 and to make the NCAA Round of 16.

"Right now, we're a little bit ahead of that," he said.

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