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Tuesday, April 13, 2021

Doubles struggle, seniors lead the comeback with singles skills

Vanderbilt tested the No. 15 Gators early but Florida prevails on senior day

<p>Marlee Zein prepares a forehand return against LSU Feb. 26</p>

Marlee Zein prepares a forehand return against LSU Feb. 26

The ball zoomed off the rackets of Florida duo Layne Sleeth and Ida Jarskog into Vandy’s Emma Kurtz and Marcella Cruz to ignite a chaotic final rally. The opponents did everything they could to break the cycle but the couples traded blows for more than ten rallies.

Finally, senior Jarlskog found the grand opportunity and punched in a final spike into Vanderbilt’s backcourt to put an end to the fight. The strategic placement gave the tandem a 6-2 win plus their teammates, McCartney Kessler and Marlee Zein, are given a chance to bring a doubles point advantage for the Gators.

The No. 2 doubles team kept the score close to No. 54 Anna Ross and Holly Staff but after a 3-3 deadlock, the underdog tandem from Vandy found a way to steal the final three games while only surrendering three scores to Kessler and Zein. 

In the end, the No. 19 Commodores stole the doubles point lead and went into the singles competition with high hopes of raining on the senior day parade. But the Florida Gators refused to fold, though their frustrations were made clear when the matchups unfolded with joyless grimaces. 

But the frowns quickly turned, especially from seniors Kessler and Jarlskog, whose college careers were recognized in the pre-game ceremonies. Their spirits were also lifted when they spotted two giant cutouts of their official team photos in the crowd.

The athletes put on a talent show for their friends and family in attendance at Linder Stadium. Every shot placed was out of the grasp of their opponents yet remarkably still within the inbound marks of the corners.

Both of their opponents, Christina Rosca and Anna Ross, put forth a solid effort to bring their second sets back and gain a momentary two-game lead. But the gears of the UF seniors just spin differently as they climbed past Ross and Rosca yet again to force untimely mistakes.

The mistakes turned into flaws and they were picked apart in the conclusion of the matches. Both Kessler and Jarlskog gladly put the icing on their celebration cake with consecutive solo triumphs before an extended break into next week.

Sophomore Layne Sleeth placed the final dagger on Saturday afternoon with a two-set victory over Vanderbilt freshman Holly Staff 6-3, 6-2. Junior Sydney Berlin also helped Florida on the scoreboard with a 6-3, 6-4 slay over Commodore Marcella Cruz.

For the next six days, Florida will try to stay warmed up and fresh before their final regular-season bout with the South Carolina Gamecocks in Columbia, SC. The final road test for the now 11-6 Gators will begin on Saturday, April 10, at noon and will be streamed live on FloridaGators.com with stats.

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

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