Water bottles and their contaminants fell from above like rain as the athletes piled in a frenzy on the floor. The celebration raged on Friday afternoon after the conclusion of the SEC championship tournament.
But for the Gators, who’ve been celebrating for 18 straight games, the clock struck midnight.
While the No. 3 Tennessee Volunteers hoisted the SEC Championship trophy above their heads, the Gators sat in distraught on the sidelines while they watched the award be lifted by their conference rival.
The sun began to set on Florida’s championship hopes after just the first two singles games.
Team captain Sam Riffice dropped his match with No. 11 Johannus Monday in two fast sets to push Tennessee toward a 3-0 lead.
Senior Andy Andrade’s battle with Tennessee’s Martim Prata came to a close in an intense third set. The score tittered throughout the match, and at one point seemed like it would conclude in a Prata blowout.
But Andrade crawled back from the depths of a 2-5 disadvantage to force a deadlock at five. When the serve was given back to Tennessee, however, Prata took full advantage of what he was given. The UF senior, already gassed from his monumental effort to tie it up, couldn’t finish the race on a sprint.
Senior Josh Goodger maintained a perfect record as he downed Volunteer Pat Harper in three sets, the first concluding in a 7-6 tiebreak. The UF Englishman nearly lost his step after a two-point loss in the following set, but completed his unblemished quest in the third.
Sophomore Blaise Bicknell also survived the conference run with zero marks in the loss column, although he received some questionable calls to keep his match alive.
All of Tennessee’s sideline hollered their concerns toward the umpires when graduate student Luca Wiedemann offered a fair serve that nicked the inside the play area but was called out of bounds. It was a close call, mere inches, but the match carried on.
The Volunteers carried a pettiness the rest of the day as they made sure to confirm with the umpire from that point on.
For the third time in the tournament, the Gators duos surrendered the doubles competition to dig an early hole on the scoreboard. Once again, the tandem of freshman Ben Shelton and junior Sam Riffice were the only victors in a 6-1 annihilation.
Shelton didn’t claim a win in singles play but played like an alpha in the doubles match. When he and Riffice were already up 5-1, the trick shots Shelton Busted out salted the wounds.
In a similar fashion to NBA Hall of Famer Julius Erving, the Florida freshman lined up a rainbow shot then returned it with a space-hook style tap. Remarkably, the ball glided across the court and landed just within the corners to move on to the match point.
Meanwhile, the No. 25 duo Johannes Ingildsen and Will Grant still failed to live up to expectations paired with court one. Overall, the couple is 9-6 but dropped five games in a row to drag the doubles roster back.
Now, the Florida Gators will return home to Gainesville to prepare for the NCAA Regionals in Lake Nona, Florida, on May 7. Until then, the Gators have film to examine and a lineup to set before the next fight.
Contact Jesse Richardson at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @JesseRich352