Roaring thunder kept Florida from hitting the courts at the Alfred A. Ring Tennis Complex against North Carolina, but a two-hour weather delay did not deter the Gators from coming out with a win.
“I felt like we came out with a ton of energy,” said freshman Nate Benetto. “Tricky, to have to deal with the delay, but I think we did a really good job of mentally preparing.”
The No. 2-seeded Gators (26-2, 12-0) defeated the North Carolina Tar Heels (18-9, 9-3) at The Ring Friday to capture an Elite Eight berth, 4-0. Florida entered the match off dominating performances in the first two rounds of the NCAA tournament, eliminating Miami and New Orleans last weekend.
The Tar Heels came into Gainesville looking to upset the high-seeded Gators following 4-1 victories over Navy and Arizona during their last two postseason outings. North Carolina found a great rhythm in its last ten contests with an 8-2 record.
UF fell behind early as graduate student Mattias Siimar and senior Andy Andrade lost to the North Carolina freshman duo Casey Kania and sophomore Logan Zapp 2-6.
Florida sophomore Ben Shelton and senior Sam Riffice helped the orange and blue bounce back in a huge way with a stellar 6-4 win over seniors Brian Cernoch and Mac Kiger.
From that point on, Florida’s doubles play continued to be unstoppable as it commanded the opening point off an incredible contest between Benetto and senior Duarte Vale against Tar Heels seniors Henry Lieberman and Benjamin Sigouin.
Bonetto and Vale forced a tiebreak and secured a 7-6 (2) victory to clinch the doubles point.
North Carolina’s competitive play in doubles did not seem to translate into singles as the Gators eliminated the Tar Heels with surgical precision.
Shelton claimed the first singles match of the evening, defeating Cernoch 6-0, 6-1. After securing the victory, Shelton fired up the crowd, turning towards the grandstand and urging the crowd to get involved.
Senior Josh Goodger was the next Gator to claim a singles point as he defeated Lieberman 6-1, 6-2. The game-clinching point came from Vale as he valiantly overpowered Kiger 6-4, 7-6, as Florida swept its opponent.
While the final singles point may have looked like a close contest, head coach Bryan Shelton had full confidence in Vale.
“My money is on this guy every time,” he said. “If it's tight, if there’s adversity, if it's a tough match, this guy’s gonna come through.”
With this victory in the rearview mirror, Florida faces off against Virginia for a chance to appear in the semifinals.
Brenda Bogle is a UF journalism senior with a specialization in sports and media. She joined The Alligator in the Fall of 2021.