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Saturday, April 13, 2024

When 128 people are gunning for the same prize, 127 people go home unsatisfied.

The UF men's tennis team was part of the 127. But there was a boatload of silver linings for a team that squared off against the nation's elite.

After three days' worth of matches at the ITA Southeast Regional Championships in Lexington, Ky., the Gators ended their run Saturday when Tyler Hochwalt dropped a 6-7 (4), 6-2, 7-5 decision to No. 12 Nate Schnugg of Georgia in the Round of 16.

The tournament had its ups and downs, leaving the team with encouragement and areas to improve. Of the six Gators who entered the tournament, five reached the round of 32, winning two matches to get there.

The singles tournament began Friday with entrants hoping to reach the finals, which would guarantee a berth at the ITA National Indoor Championships in Charlottesville, Va. on Nov. 6-9. The nation's top 20 also automatically qualify. Jeff Dadamo, No. 108, is the only nationally ranked Gator.

The only UF athlete who did not make it out of the first day was Erik Corace, who lost in the opening round to Ervin Garibovic of Florida Gulf Coast 6-7 (2), 7-6 (4), 6-4. Corace has exited early in all three of the tournaments he's played in and has a 1-4 record.

"Erik is not in the mix to play at the top of our lineup. He's competing for the No. 6 spot," UF coach Andy Jackson said. "If he would have won his match (against Garibovic), it would have changed the whole outlook of his fall."

The other five UF players - Dadamo, Hochwalt, Dan Cash, Johnny Hamui and Joey Burkhardt - were perfect Friday, winning a total of nine matches.

Saturday brought the round of 32, and therefore much stiffer competition. Most of the team faced nationally recognized opponents. Burkhardt, Cash, Dadamo and Hamui all took on top-21 opponents who play in the No. 1 position for their teams.

"When we did lose, we lost to only guys who were basically top 20 on the country," Jackson said. "I'm encouraged by (the tournament) because it took somebody that high-caliber to beat our guys."

Hochwalt was the only Gator to win, defeating Julien Gauthier of LSU 7-5, 7-6 (1). It was the last UF victory of the week.

Earlier in the week, some of the players competed in doubles matches. The paired Gators did not impress Jackson as much as they did in the singles matches, with all three teams winning their first and losing their second match.

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Cash and Hamui beat Nick Cromydas and Alex DiValerio of Vanderbilt 8-4 in the round of 64. The other team competing in that round, Burkhardt and Carlos Cueto, handled Gokay Celik and Christopher Swanteson of Stetson 8-3.

The No. 22 combination of Dadamo and Hochwalt were given a bye in the first round, then beat Cesare Gallo and Njal Stene of Stetson 8-2. The Gators lost their next match, however, to Boris Conkic and Matteo Fago of Tennessee 8-0.

Cueto, who has shown a lot of promise as a freshman, had to withdraw from singles play with back spasms. The same injury forced him to leave the Southern Intercollegiate early on Sept. 20 in Athens, Ga.

The Gators' next tournament is Oct. 30 at the FSU Invitational in Tallahassee.

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