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Friday, May 24, 2024

It’s not the way UF coach Andy Jackson wanted it to play out, but today is a big match for the men’s tennis team.

The No. 7 Gators (12-2, 4-0 Southeastern Conference) are off to their best start since 2005 in SEC play, but that won’t be a factor against out-of-conference and in-state rival No. 20 FSU (10-3, 3-0 Atlantic Coast Conference).

Jackson’s approach is to schedule non-conference opponents in January and February to have the team focused on SEC play during March and April. Originally, the match was set for Feb. 24 but was rained out and rescheduled for today at 4 p.m.

The FSU match will be Jackson’s first opportunity to win his 100th contest at home during his tenure at UF. Florida is undefeated at home this season, including wins over No. 11 Illinois and No. 28  Georgia Tech, and the Gators are 9-1 against the Seminoles under Jackson, with a current three-game winning streak in the series.

The players are still excited to face their in-state rival.

“I was debating the other day, ‘Who would I rather beat: an SEC team or Florida State?’” freshman Bob Van Overbeek said. “I couldn’t come up with an answer. SEC wins are special, but this is Florida State.”

Van Overbeek’s impressive play at the No. 4 position has been valuable in Florida’s recent victories. At that spot, the Boca Raton native will likely match up against another freshman, Connor Smith.

Smith and the rest of the Seminoles are coming off a heartbreaking 4-3 loss to No. 38 Notre Dame on Sunday, and they’ll face a Florida team that has changed its look and gained confidence since Feb. 24.

One change has been made in doubles, where senior Daniel Cash has become Van Overbeek’s partner.

“I have a lot of confidence in Daniel because he’s a senior and a high-level doubles player,” Jackson said.

Cash and Van Overbeek are 3-3 this spring after two close losses last weekend.

Van Overbeek’s other doubles partner, freshman Billy Federhofer, will likely return to the court soon.

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“Billy is a special returner, and he’s a young player who needs to get experience, so I need to get him in matches,” Jackson said. “It’s a very good situation for us. You could say that it’s a rotation between them that we have going.”

There does not appear to be any rotation in the singles lineup coming any time soon.

No. 6 junior Alexandre Lacroix has won six-consecutive matches at the No. 1 spot since the team returned home from the ITA Team Indoor Tournament in Charlottesville, Va. Five of those six wins have come since the match against FSU was postponed.

Lacroix will likely face No. 22  Jean-Yves Aubone. Aubone is coming off an upset victory over No. 19 Casey Watt of Notre Dame.

Sophomore Nassim Slilam will also have a streak on the line, as he enters today’s match with 12-straight wins, mostly at the No. 6 spot.

When combined with the No. 5 court, lately played by freshman Sekou Bangoura Jr., Florida is 26-2 at the bottom two spots.

Bangoura, a native Floridian, said before the originally scheduled match that while the team tries to maintain the same focus for every opponent, it’s hard not to get more “pumped” for FSU.

After Sunday’s victory over Alabama, he confirmed not much has changed.

“We’re still excited,” Bangoura said.

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