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Saturday, September 24, 2022
<p>Junior Marlee Zein and senior McCartney Kessler against Arkansas on March 14, 2021. The Gators overcame the Mississippi State Bulldogs Sunday afternoon.</p>

Junior Marlee Zein and senior McCartney Kessler against Arkansas on March 14, 2021. The Gators overcame the Mississippi State Bulldogs Sunday afternoon.

Florida is a blue blood program in the realm of collegiate women’s tennis. Champions as recent as 2017, the Gators opened the season at No. 20 in the nation. With plenty to prove, a potential rise back to the top started off on the right foot Sunday with a 6-1 win over North Florida and a shutout performance against South Florida 7-0 the following day.

Florida started strong against UNF, sweeping the doubles portion to score the first  point of the match. Graduate student McCartney Kessler and junior Emma Shelton wrapped up court three with a 6-2 win, while the No. 24 duo of seniors Carly Briggs and Marlee Zein won 6-3 to lock up the early advantage for the Gators. The No. 46 pairing of freshmen Alicia Dudeney and Bente Spee finished off UNF freshmen Anslee Long and senior Summer Yardley in a close 7-5 win for good measure.

The match transitioned to the singles segment with a Gators lead in hand. In somewhat of a surprise, the Gators’ top-ranked singles player, No. 34 Zein, was absent from the lineup. In turn, Kessler was tasked with holding down court one, but she faltered in two sets against Osprey senior Kit Gulihur, Florida’s only dropped point of the entire match.

No. 87 Shelton won her match in two sets after winning a tiebreaker in the first. Dudeney and Spee turned in dominant performances, handling business in two sets and each losing just two games. Briggs split two sets against UNF sophomore Anabelle Davis before eventually finishing off the match in a tiebreaker. Senior Sydney Berlin also emerged victorious in two sets.

The Gators’ continued their success from their opening match in a convincing win over South Florida. UF switched things up with its doubles rotation, pairing Spee with Zein and matching Berlin and sophomore Sara Dahlstrom. Both combinations worked well for the Gators, resulting in two wins and giving Florida the first point in the match. Shelton and Kessler, who were down 6-5 at the time, did not need to finish.

The singles matches fared even better than the day before, as Florida was able to win all six points. Kessler bounced back from losing the only point in the match against UNF with an easy two-set victory. Emma Shelton came from behind after losing her first set, winning the second and then the match following a third-set tiebreaker. 

For the second consecutive contest, Spee and Berlin easily defeated their opponents in two sets. Dahlstrom, who saw her first singles appearance of the season, also won in two sets. Zein did play singles this time around, cruising to a 6-3, 6-3 triumph.

The Gators couldn’t have started the season much better. Two controlling wins are sure to inspire confidence going forward, as well as a likely rise in the rankings. Florida’s next match comes Saturday against Florida International University in the ITA Kickoff Weekend. With a win, UF would advance to face either Florida State, the event’s host, or Illinois in the championship game.

Contact Joshua Morgan at jmorgan@alligator.org. Follow him on Twitter @JoshuaMorgan37

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