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Thursday, February 25, 2021

Turn the Tide: Gators begin conference play against Alabama

No. 11 Men’s team will host the Crimson Tide while the No. 22 Women travel to Tuscaloosa

The Gators suffered two brutal losses to No. 22 UCF 4-3, 5-2 and No. 8 FSU 4-1.
The Gators suffered two brutal losses to No. 22 UCF 4-3, 5-2 and No. 8 FSU 4-1.

Florida Gators coaches Roland Thornqvist and Bryan Shelton are calling the weeks the “meat” of their schedule.

Both of Florida’s teams will be in action Friday afternoon when the women travel to Tuscaloosa, Alabama, to take on the Crimson Tide. The men’s team, meanwhile, will defend the home courts against No. 22 Alabama.

Friday’s matches against the SEC powerhouse Crimson Tide are the first of many inter-conference meetings. The women only have SEC opponents for the rest of the regular season while only two of the men’s 14 final opponents, FSU and TCU, are from another conference. 

Men’s: No. 11 Florida (4-1) hosts No. 22 Alabama (8-2)

Despite a match drought, the Gators have found a way to stay in shape and prepare for the Tide, head coach Bryan Shelton said. There were scrimmages among the Florida roster throughout the early weeks of February and players “have been beating up on each other quite a bit” since no alternate opponents were able to take the place of FSU.

The No. 22 Crimson Tide (8-2) will be a fresh face on the opposing side of the net, and the first of three top-ranked challenges in the next five games. 

The lineups will be set an hour prior to the first serve at Alfred A. Ring Tennis Complex, but it's likely we’ll see the returns of the Gators’ top weapons such as senior Ida Jarlskog and No. 65 Layne Sleeth

Graduate student Vincent Rettke, who boasts a 4-2 record, will represent the Tide in singles play. In one day, Rettke obliterated both of his Tennessee Tech opponents: Mika Berghaus 6-3, 6-0 and Elias Grubert 6-2, 6-3. 

The Gators have been working on their technical play, including serving, since Jan. 29, Shelton said. The key to winning matches comes from their serving strategies like the set up or the utilization, Shelton believes that the second serves are the key to winning matches.

“That’s the one determining factor of who wins the match,” Shelton said. “Who wins the second serve points and who wins the highest percentage of those. So we’ve been really trying to hone in on that over these last couple of weeks.”

Three weeks ago, the No. 11 Gators came out on top over a stout No. 19 UCF squadron 5-2. Since then, Florida hasn’t seen an opponent and holds a 4-1 record dating back to Jan. 29. A previously scheduled bout with rival Florida State was postponed due to COVID concerns within the Seminoles’ program.

First serve will be at 5 p.m. at the Alfred A. Tennis Complex. Gators fans can attend the event if clear weather conditions persist. If the weather worsens, fan attendance will not be allowed.

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Stream the action or watch the live stats on FloridaGators.com.

Women’s: No. 22 Florida (2-3) visits Alabama (9-1)

Unlike the men’s team, the women of Gators Tennis have had three matches since Jan. 29 and bulldozed South Florida 5-2 in their most recent dual. 

The victory is their first in four games after suffering two brutal losses to No. 22 UCF 4-3, 5-2 and No. 8 FSU 4-1.

Alabama will be a test for Florida’s momentum as the Gators’ schedule begins to wind down to only conference opponents. Florida has only overcome unranked foes from Georgia State and USF, but the road only gets tougher when opponents like No. 5 Georgia, No. 9 Vanderbilt and No. 19 Tennessee come ready to play.

Currently, the Crimson Tide are on a three-game win streak after beating Texas Christian University, Tulane and Troy University last week. 

No. 32 McCartney Kessler and her partner Marlee Zein have one win in the doubles category. The duo has strived independently, combining for a 6-2 singles record. Despite the record, the pair’s  chemistry seems to be alive as they support each other on the courts and  the sidelines with bright smiles and loud chants.

Moka Ito, who claims a 7-2 record, highlights the Crimson Tide singles lineup. The senior from Fukushima, Japan, is on a two-game win streak and will represent Alabama as No. 1 against McCartney Kessler.

The doubles will begin their competition from Tuscaloosa, Alabama, at 6 p.m. The match will be streamed with live stats on FloridaGators.com.

Contact Jesse Richardson at jrichardson@alligator.org or follow him on Twitter @JesseRich352 



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