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Thursday, July 07, 2022

Florida defeats Mississippi State in singles competition

After faltering in doubles, the women's team pulled a massive comeback

<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.

With the score deadlocked at three, the Florida Gators needed to take one more singles game to clinch the match. All eyes were on junior Carly Briggs as she battled to take the tiebreaker. 

Briggs returned the final serve and a few volleys later, the Gators were celebrating a statement victory at Alfred A. Ring Tennis Complex.

Amidst a windy day, Florida women’s tennis (10-10, 1-7 SEC) earned its sixth-consecutive win against No. 54 Mississippi State (10-10, 1-7 SEC). 

The doubles competition started with a Bulldog advantage. The Miss State duo of senior Emma Antonaki and junior Marta Falceto came out swinging, knocking out freshman duo Alicia Dudeney and Bente Spee 1-6. 

Florida sophomore Sara Dahlstrom and junior Emma Shelton were in a position to pull off a win on court one with a 5-3 lead. However, the match was voided, due to the early fall of graduate student McCartney Kessler and senior Marlee Zein fell to Miss State senior Tamara Racine and sophomore Chloe Cirotte before they had the chance. 

The Bulldog squad claimed the doubles advantage with a 6-3 win.

Florida head coach Roland Thornqvist believes there’s a way the team can improve their doubles play.

“...it's almost April and there's not a lot of teams in the country that still have something to look and pay attention to where they can get this much better like we can in doubles,” Thornqvist said. “If we can do a good job in training on Tuesday and Wednesday, and then into next week and the next, our doubles play can continue to improve by several factors. If that's the case, then we're going to be tough to beat."

With the doubles portion lost, the Gators were now in a tough situation, in need of a minimum of four wins to claim the overall match. 

No. 22 Kessler started the singles competition strong for Florida. 

The Calhoun, Georgia native earned her 11th-consecutive singles win against No. 95 Antonika in two sets, 6-3, 6-3. 

Dahlstrom gifted the Gators a 2-1 lead on court five after swiftly defeating freshman Alessia Tagliente, 6-4, 6-2. The UF sophomore struggled to find solid pacing in the first set but overcame the obstacle to run away in the second.

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On court two, No. 58 Zein kept the energy and hope alive for the Gators, claiming the first set 6-3 over senior Tamara Racine. The second set did not come as easy, as Racine locked the game in a 3-3 battle until Zein found comfort on the backlines to rally against her Miss State counterpart and claim the match. 

Briggs cruised through her opening set to record a clean 6-0 finish. The real battle with junior Alexandra Mikhailuk kicked off in the second set to clinch the game for UF. Mikhailuk delivered a massive comeback to tie up the game 6-6, forcing the girls to a tiebreaker. Briggs pushed for the win and took the game 7-5.

Coach Thornqvist had nothing but praise for the Florida team when it came down to the performance of their single.

"For the past two weeks I've been really impressed by the play of McCartney (Kessler), Marlee (Zein), and Carlee (Briggs), they are leading the way every time out and these last four matches, just dominating performances,” Thornqvist said. “ Our attitudes in singles are now like pros and it's just nice to see that extra work and hard work is now paying off.

The Gators hit the road Friday to Lexington, Kentucky to take on the University of Kentucky. The first serve will be delivered at 12 p.m.

Contact Vanessa Sanchez at vsanchez@alligator.org. Follow her on Twitter @_vanessa_sanch.

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