Florida men’s tennis coach Bryan Shelton and his team can finally move on from the disappointing loss they suffered to Pepperdine in the first round of last season’s NCAA tournament.
The No. 24 Gators began the 2016 regular season on Sunday with dominant wins over No. 63 Troy and unranked Stetson, increasing the program’s win streak in season-opening matches to 28 straight.
In front of their home crowd, the Gators swept the doubleheader with ease, beating the Trojans 6-1 and the Hatters 7-0 at the Ring Tennis Complex in Gainesville.
Freshman McClain Kessler went 3-0 on the day, winning two singles matches and one doubles match. The freshman praised his head coach following the matches, crediting Shelton with making his transition to the college game as easy as possible.
"I don’t think there’s a better person than coach Shelton as a coach," Kessler said.
"I wish I could be half as good as he was, and I strive to be like him."
Senior Diego Hidalgo, sophomore Jordan Belga and freshman Alfredo Perez also went undefeated on the day, with each player winning one singles and one doubles match.
"We’re trying to go match by match," Hidalgo said. "We’re going to go into each week and try to beat up on every team that we face."
Junior Elliott Orkin was given a full workload, as he was the only player on the team to participate in four matches.
Orkin went 3-1 with two singles victories and one win and one loss in two doubles matches.
Sunday marked the beginning of Shelton’s fourth year as the leader of the Gators.
The coach went 46-30 in his first three seasons, leading the Gators to the NCAA Tournament all three years.
Shelton emphasized realistic expectations when talking about the team’s goals for postseason success.
"I think if we focus in on things that we can control, and we really develop those things really well, then I think our opportunity to have success at the end of the season increases," Shelton said.
The players, however, have not shied away from telling their head coach where they want to be come late April.
"This team has vocalized that they want to win the SEC championship this year," Shelton said.
Florida’s next match will be on Jan. 23 in Austin against the University of Texas at 10 a.m. for the ITA Kick-Off Weekend.
If Florida defeats Texas, they would take on either Ole Miss or Texas Tech on Jan. 24 at 1 p.m. for an opportunity to qualify for the 2016 ITA National Men’s Team Indoor Championship.
Follow Dylan Dixon on Twitter @dylanrdixon
UF coach Bryan Shelton (right) congratulates McClain Kessler during Florida's 6-1 win over Troy on Jan. 17, 2016, at the Ring Tennis Complex.