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Wednesday, May 29, 2024

The Gators are ready for a double dose of their biggest rival.

The No. 8 women’s tennis team starts things off when it hosts FSU today at 5, and the No. 7 men will host the Seminoles on Wednesday.

“Florida State always seems to bring out the best in us,” UF women’s coach Roland Thornqvist said. “We know we are going to play a team that is fired up to play us.”

For the women, the No. 14 Seminoles will be the latest in a tough stretch of opponents.

On Feb. 12th, the Gators traveled to Madison, Wis., for the ITA Team Indoor Championships.

After beating No. 16 Michigan, they dropped consecutive matches to No. 3 Northwestern and No. 12 UCLA.

Thornqvist saw the trip as a learning experience for his team.

“Indoors was good for us,” Thornqvist said. “We played some of the best teams in the country.”

The FSU match will be UF’s first at home in more than two weeks, and on a team with native-Floridians, including No. 10 Allie Will and No. 22 Lauren Embree, the rivalry is well-understood.

“We’re excited to be playing our rival at home,” Will said. “We hope to see a good crowd out there.”

Will, a Boca Raton native, is familiar with the rivalry carrying over to all sports.

Her teammate is somewhat conflicted.

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Embree, from Marco Island, is not the only member of her family who plays collegiate tennis. 

Her brother, Keith Embree, plays for FSU.

“He actually hasn’t been giving me too much stuff about it,” Embree said. “I can’t really hate Florida State that much when I have a brother there.”

The men’s team also has native-Floridian freshmen who are excited to play against FSU for the first time.

“We’re pumped,” freshman Sekou Bangoura Jr. said. “You try to get the same level of excitement for every opponent, but it’s hard not to get more excited for FSU.”

Bangoura, a Bradenton native, is coming off a strong performance Sunday against USF.

In singles, Bangoura was the first to finish and put the team closer to clinching the victory with his 6-1, 6-1 win.

Another freshman familiar with both schools is Boca Raton native Bob Van Overbeek, who received interest from FSU before choosing to play for UF.

“I don’t know if you would call it recruiting, but I remember getting a lot of mail from them,” Van Overbeek said.  “Their No. 1 guy was doing really good at the time, and it seemed like every time he did something they sent me a letter about it.”

Tennis is a sport that rewards depth, and the newcomers are contributing significantly this year.

Sunday against USF, Van Overbeek and freshman Billy Federhofer won the first doubles set from the No. 3 court.

In singles, Van Overbeek won at court No. 4 and helped put Florida in position to seal the victory before the top three positions had finished.

UF will rely on that depth against FSU.

“Florida State has a 1-2-3 combination as good as or better than anybody in the country,” UF men’s coach Andy Jackson said.

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