The Florida men’s tennis team exceeded all expectations in 2016.
Coming off a disappointing campaign last year that saw the Gators tally their lowest win total since the 2000-2001 season, UF bounced back this spring to put up one of its best seasons in recent history.
Florida (21-7, 10-2 Southeastern Conference) dominated the SEC from start to finish, winning 10 of 12 matches and outscoring opponents 61-23 in the regular season to finish second in the SEC standings behind Georgia.
The Gators got the best of UGA in the postseason, however, topping the Bulldogs 4-2 in the conference tournament championship to earn Florida its first SEC crown since 2011.
“We had our goals set on the SEC Title,” senior Gordon Watson said in a release following the conference tournament. “We weren’t able to get it done during the regular season, but that’s just a testament of this team’s resiliency.”
UF made noise in the NCAA Championships as well, sweeping its first three matches of the tournament to advance to the Elite 8 for the first time in 11 years. However, the season ended there for the Gators, as they fell to defending national champion Virginia 4-0 in the quarterfinal round on Sunday.
“Our guys had an incredible year,” coach Bryan Shelton said in a release. “I felt like we got better throughout the whole season and obviously in the postseason winning the SEC title, as well as making a good run here up to this point.”
Shelton was one of several Gators to receive individual accolades for their performances this season. The coach was named the SEC Coach of the Year on April 28 after he led his program to its most wins since 2010.
Senior Diego Hidalgo’s 23-6 singles record this spring earned him the SEC Player of the Year, while newcomer Alfredo Perez garnered SEC Co-Freshman of the Year honors after going a combined 37-7 in singles and doubles contests.
But while the Gators return young talent for next season, they will lose some experience.
UF’s top doubles pair, Hidalgo and Watson, is graduating. But the Gators will bring back their other seven members from this season’s roster, including Perez, junior Elliott Orkin, sophomore Chase Perez-Blanco and freshman McClain Kessler, who are expected to see increased roles next season.
“I feel like we have a solid foundation and solid core, and (I’m) looking forward to just continuing it next season with this group,” Shelton said.
Florida also has three incoming freshman: Stephen Madonia of Sarasota, David Sarkissov of Moscow and Johannes Ingildsen of Denmark.
Madonia has been ranked as high as the No. 3 college prospect by Tennis Recruiting Ratings, Sarkissov is ranked in the top 20 in Russia and Ingildsen is ranked No. 133 in the International Tennis Federation’s world rankings.
“We have signed a tremendous incoming class for 2016,” Shelton said. “Each of these young men are high character individuals that embody the core values we embrace.”
While the 2015 season may be over for the Florida men’s tennis team as a whole, four Gators will have one more run in the NCAA Singles and Doubles Championship, which runs from May 25 to May 30 in Tulsa, Oklahoma.
Hidalgo, Perez and Orkin will compete in the singles tournament, while Hidalgo and Watson will play together in the doubles tournament for the last time in their collegiate careers.
“Just proud of my seniors, who gave us so much throughout the season this year, Diego and Gordon,” Shelton said. “I’m really excited about the individual tournament and opportunities that lie ahead there.”
Contact Dylan Dixon at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @dylanrdixon.
Gordon Watson (right) high fives teammate Diego Hidalgo (left) during a doubles match in Florida's 9-3 win against William & Mary on Friday at the Ring Tennis Complex.