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Thursday, July 07, 2022

Florida skates by Texas A&M and advances to SEC Final

The No. 1 Gators recover from doubles Texas A&M to advance into SEC finals

The conference tournament final will take place Friday night with the Gators set to battle the Tennessee Volunteers. Photo from UF-FSU game March 3.
The conference tournament final will take place Friday night with the Gators set to battle the Tennessee Volunteers. Photo from UF-FSU game March 3.

With an undefeated streak and a trip to the conference final on the line, sophomore Blaise Bicknell stayed cool, calm and collected. 

Locked in a 4-4 stalemate, the Miami native went back to the basics and utilized what’s gotten him in an unbeatable position. When Texas A&M junior Noah Shachter offered serves, the UF speedster put the pedal to the floor to evaporate what was left in his tank. 

But the last few ounces were worth the push. Bicknell aced his opponent after two straight games. 

From corner to corner, he always stayed with the ball to give a powerful strike back. The Florida bench rushed Bicknell, who ripped his shirt off, to celebrate a trip to the SEC Tournament Final when the ball made its final bounce.

It’s not the first time Florida’s sideline rushed to celebrate with the clutch sophomore. In fact, Thursday was the fourth time of the 2021 campaign that Bicknell finished off the opposition. 

Senior Josh Goodger downed Aggie freshman Rapheal Perot in two sets and kept his hunt for a perfect season intact. Although Goodger fell behind to begin both sets, he kept his mind clear to pull back and run away twice. 

Perot’s shot placements and decision-making weren't on par with what the Frenchman accomplished in the past. The ball just couldn’t find a path to the inside on what seemed like routine spikes.

For the second round in a row, the day began slowly when Florida failed to pick up the doubles point. 

Head coach Bryan Shelton stuck to his guns and walked into the doubles competition with the consistent lineups that’s run for the past month.

Junior Sam Riffice and freshman Ben Shelton picked up their second win of the tournament on the third court, but recently promoted starters Will Grant and Johannes Ingildsen have yet to turn themselves around. The duo picked up another loss.

The Florida coaches have a lot to sleep on even as they head to the SEC Final on Friday. Since the doubles change up back in the first week of April, the Gators have only clinched a doubles point in one of the five duels, a few steps back from what the team accomplished back in March when they swept four opponents in a row.

The skeleton key of the doubles portion previously resided with the captain tandem of senior Duarte Vale and Sam Riffice, but they were separated in hopes that the shuffle would spark new chemistry. 

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After a few close calls on the final score, it might be time to return to what had worked before. 

The conference tournament final will take place  Friday night with the Gators set to battle the Tennessee Volunteers. The championship match will be aired live on the SEC Network at 7 p.m. with live stats available on FloridaGators.com.

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

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