The UF men's tennis team begins its fall season this weekend at the Southern Intercollegiate tournament in Athens, Ga. Although team play does not begin until January, the Gators are looking forward to see what the team can do without Greg Ouellette and Nestor Briceno, the highest-ranked players from last season.
"Our goal is going to be to win a championship, and the biggest hurdle that we'll have to get over to play at that level is, are we going to be able to be a mature team even though we are a young team?" coach Andy Jackson said.
Many of those young players spent last year watching one of the best players in the country. Ouellette finished the season ranked fourth by the Intercollegiate Tennis Association and ended his college career with 110 singles wins, the fourth highest in UF history.
The Gators also lost another solid player in Briceno, who finished ranked 49th and advanced further in the NCAA Tournament than any player on the team.
"When you lose an SEC Player of the Year and Nestor Briceno, who had a phenomenal year at No. 2, it's a lot," Jackson said.
One player the Gators are hoping will fill the void Ouellette and Briceno left is Jeff Dadamo. Dadamo - who partnered with Ouellette in doubles matches last season - is the only player on the team to receive preseason ITA attention, ranked at No. 108. Last season, Dadamo went 5-4 in singles competition and competed in the Gators' fourth spot.
This season, Dadamo will partner with Tyler Hochwalt.
"(Hochwalt) was one of our best points last year at No. 5, and if he matures he can be one of the better players in the country," Jackson said.
In addition to Dadamo and Hochwalt, Alex Lacroix, Erik Corace, and Johnny Hamui have shown promise. Lacroix, who is studying abroad this fall, teamed with Briceno last year and finished the season ranked No. 73 in singles. Corace was named the team's most improved player last year and Hamui showed the most improvement over the summer, Jackson said.
As for the team's goal of winning a championship, the Southeastern Conference looks to be a tough conference as usual.
"It's very difficult right now to predict who is going to be the contenders because the team season doesn't start until January … but the usual suspects are going to be in there," Jackson said. "Tennessee looks to be good, Georgia, Florida, Kentucky, Ole Miss are the ones that, year after year, are close to the top 10."