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Thursday, July 07, 2022

Gators look to prove their worth in SEC Tournament

Men’s and women’s teams ride high into the championship with long win streaks

<p>Captain Sam Riffice stares down his return .Feb. 21 against Auburn. Riffice is one of seven returning players from last year&#x27;s national championship roster.</p>

Captain Sam Riffice stares down his return .Feb. 21 against Auburn. Riffice is one of seven returning players from last year's national championship roster.

The doors cracked open Monday morning on the Florida Gators’ team bus. Player by player, the men’s squad stepped off the vehicle in their color-coordinated, orange t-shirts. 

Freshman Ben Shelton showed off his excitement with a brightening smile, but the rest of the Gators’ arsenal carried a straight face, determined to get started with the tournament.

The men’s and women’s tennis teams both capped the regular season on a hot streak last week. Now, they will participate in the SEC Championship Tournament Wednesday afternoon to boost their prominence to chase a conference crown.

Men’s: No. 1 Florida versus Miss State/Alabama

The top-ranked Gators descend from their ivory tower onto the battlefield to defend their regular-season crown.

Florida waltz into the conference tournament undefeated against SEC opponents, which handed the team the No. 1 seed and a double-bye. The team has handled business after extended breaks before and the roster has momentum on their side.

In the climax of the monumental run, the doubles and singles fused their powers and shut out four straight opponents, including No. 6 Texas Christian University and arch-rival Florida State.

Undefeated singles stars Blaise Bicknell and Josh Goodger are heavy favorites to lead the way even further and seal Florida’s standing as conference champions. Bicknell’s speed and the  placements off his backhands put his opponents in a trance while leaving them in a gasp for air.

But since a major shakeup to the lineup, the Gators struggled to gain a doubles point advantage in the final three meets of the season. The captainship duo of Sam Riffice and Duarte Vale were separated and after a 1-2 doubles finish, head coach Bryan Shelton might consider a return to the old ways to ensure the two needed victories.

Top-seeded Florida awaits the victor of Mississippi State and Alabama battle and will begin their run at 5 p.m. on Wednesday. Follow for stream updates on FloridaGators.com.

Women’s: No. 3 Florida versus Vanderbilt/South Carolina

The Gators’ campaign started with a slight hiccup when the team struggled to maintain a positive win percentage. Once the SEC contests began, the stigma stayed true when they posted a 4-4 tally in the first eight duels. 

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But things kicked off when the formerly un-ranked Gators pulled off a 4-0 beatdown over Missouri at home to start a seven-match win streak. After the Tigers’ annihilation, Florida kept their stride to overcome other elite teams that will be in the tournament like seven seed Ole Miss, No. 5 Kentucky, and No. 8 Alabama.

The duos of Florida have been stuck at a .500 win percentage for most of the campaign, but seniors Ida Jarlskog (8-3) and McCartney Kessler (13-2) have held their own while they take opponents in singles play. Junior Sydney Berlin found her own light as well on court five with 11 total wins and six straight victories to close out the regular season.

After their double-bye, the three seed Gators wait for their next opponent to be determined in the matchup between Vanderbilt and South Carolina on Tuesday afternoon. Florida’s first match of the tournament will start at 4 p.m. on Wednesday. Find an online stream of the women’s tournament on RollTide.com.

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

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