The Florida men’s tennis team exceeded all expectations.
On April 24, UF defeated preseason favorite Georgia 4-2 to capture the program’s first Southeastern Conference Tournament Championship in five years.
Since that victory, the No. 9 Gators (18-6) have shifted their focus to the NCAA Championship, where they will host their first-round matchup against unranked North Florida (11-11) on Saturday at noon.
UF has been tough to beat in Gainesville this season, sporting a 10-1 home record and outscoring opponents 66-11 at the Ring Tennis Complex.
For coach Bryan Shelton, holding a home-court advantage over UNF has only increased his enthusiasm as he’s continued to prepare for this weekend’s contest.
“We are looking forward to hosting,” Shelton said in a release.
“It has been a great year and our guys have put us in a position to have our fans come out and see us play again.”
But While Shelton is optimistic about UF's chances this year, his teams haven't fared well in the tournament in the past.
Florida has suffered two first round losses and is a dismal 2-3 in the NCAA Championship since Shelton became its head coach in 2012.
However, the 2016 SEC Coach of the Year isn’t lacking in postseason success. Shelton led the Georgia Tech women’s tennis team to its first national championship in 2007 behind a 21-match win streak to end its season.
If Shelton wants to lead the Gators to a similar fate this year, he and his team will have to get past a talented North Florida team.
The Ospreys are making their first NCAA Tournament appearance in program history following a 4-0 win over USC Upstate in the Atlantic Sun Tournament Championship.
UNF junior Jack Findel-Hawkins is ranked No. 109 by the Intercollegiate Tennis Association in singles play after going 8-5 in dual matches this season.
Findel-Hawkins and his partner, junior Yannick Zuern, are also ranked No. 34 in doubles competition.
For Florida, freshman Alfredo Perez enters the NCAA Championship coming off an impressive performance at the SEC Tournament. The first-year player went undefeated in the event, playing an integral part in UF’s championship run.
Freshman McClain Kessler also returned to action during the tournament after missing the Gators’ final four matches of the regular season with a hip injury.
If Florida defeats North Florida on Saturday, it will also host a second round match against either No. 17 South Florida (20-8) or No. 71 St. John’s (21-5) on Sunday at 1 p.m.
From there, the Gators will head to Tulsa, Oklahoma, for the rest of the tournament.
Contact Dylan Dixon at email@example.com and follow him on Twitter @dylanrdixon.
Alfredo Perez returns a ball during Florida's 6-1 win over Troy on Jan. 17, 2016, at the Ring Tennis Complex.