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Wednesday, February 21, 2024

Florida loses nail-biter to No. 1 Aggies, eliminated in SEC Championship Semifinal

Four singles matches entered deciding sets, Gators came up short

Gators sophomore Emily De Oliveira prepares to hit the ball in a 4-1 victory against the Michigan Wolverines Wednesday, March 22, 2023.
Gators sophomore Emily De Oliveira prepares to hit the ball in a 4-1 victory against the Michigan Wolverines Wednesday, March 22, 2023.

Two standoffs occurred on doubles courts one and two, and both Florida pairs prepared to meet their demise. 

The score tallied 6-5. Florida sophomores Bente Spee and Alicia Dudeney trailed forty-love in Texas A&M’s matchpoint; they needed four consecutive break points to force a tiebreaker set. 

The pair forced one point, then another, then another. The score signaled a deuce, and Florida secured the final point to even the match score at six apiece. The pair’s hopes remained alive but were quickly shattered when Aggies graduate students Jayci Goldsmith and Salma Ewing took control in the final game and won 7-6 (4). 

Florida still had a chance at the doubles point but were stunned when freshman Rachel Gailis and senior Carly Briggs similarly fell in their tiebreaker game against Aggies freshman Mia Kupres and sophomore Mary Stoiana. The early lead paved the way for Texas A&M to navigate its way to victory.  

The No. 4-seed Florida Gators (16-7, 9-4 SEC) lost to the No. 1-seed Texas A&M Aggies (27-1, 13-0 SEC) 4-2 Saturday afternoon at Billingsley Tennis Center and failed to advance to the Southeastern Conference Championship Final. The match was a tussle from the opening serve, but the Aggies bested the Gators for the third time this season. 

Florida freshman Sophie Williams and senior Emma Shelton got off to a hot start and took Court 3 from Aggies sophomores Gianna Pielet and Jeanette Mireles. The Florida pair stormed out the gates and acquired a 5-1 lead. The Aggies’ duo battled it out for one more game but ultimately lost 6-1. 

Meanwhile, two standoffs occurred on courts one and two. 

The No. 21-ranked pair of Dudeney and Spee forced their way into a battle against No. 25 Aggies Goldsmith and Ewing. The UF tandem trailed 3-1 but refused to let up. They evened the score at three apiece and exchanged blows until they lost in the tiebreaker set 7-6 (4).  

Briggs and Gailis — the Intercollegiate Tennis Association’s No. 74-ranked doubles pair — fought hard against No. 55 Kupres and Stoiana. The competitors went hit for hit, and TAMU eventually came out on top with a 7-6 (3) victory.  

Florida was forced to claw its way back in singles and needed four of six courts for a chance to topple the Aggies. The Gators started off hot and took five of the six first sets of singles play but experienced struggles from their No.1 position — junior Sara Dahlstrom — who was unable to put up any fight. 

The Florida junior fell to Aggies No. 2-ranked Stoiana in one of her most disappointing performances of the Spring. Dahlstrom lost 6-1 in both sets, as the Aggies quickly increased their lead to two. 

The No. 100-ranked Dudeney took Court 3 by storm and slimmed TAMU’s lead to just one. The sophomore earned a victory in straight sets, 6-3, 6-4, against the No. 57-ranked Kupres and set up the drama that followed. 

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All of the four singles matches remaining entered a deciding set. 

No. 45 Briggs won 6-2 in the first set against No. 73 Ewing but fell 6-2 in the second set. Ewing got off to a flying start in the final set, but the Florida senior stayed closely behind. Ewing nearly lost the final break point but tightened up and secured the win over Briggs, 6-4. 

Texas A&M led 3-1 and needed one more win from any of the remaining courts to advance to the SEC Championship Final. 

Gailis struggled to open her matchup against No. 115 Goldsmith and started down four games to none. The Florida freshman kept her composure and put on a show. Gailis stole the first set 7-6 (3) and entered a third set after Goldsmith’s 6-1 second-set victory. 

Gailis had her back against the wall and faced a match point down 5-4 in the deciding set but was far from surrendering defeat. The UF sophomore went full throttle and earned a thrilling 7-5 third-set victory to keep the Gators’ hopes alive. Unfortunately for UF, two Gators neared defeat on their respective courts. 

Spee became the Gator to be clinched on in her three-set battle against Mireles. Spee opened with a terrific first set in which she came back to win 7-5. The next two sets diversely unfolded. The Florida sophomore could only muscle her way to earn two games and fell to the Aggies sophomore 6-1 in both sets.

The loss eliminated Florida in the SEC Championship Semifinal. 

UF sophomore Emily De Oliveira entered a third set against Aggies freshman Daria Smetannikov after a 6-4 second-set win and a 6-4 third-set loss. The TAMU freshman almost became the player to clinch before Mireles got the job done on Court 6. 

Florida will have its sights set on the upcoming National Collegiate Athletic Association Tournament that starts May 17th. The schedule and matchups will be released after the conclusion of each conference tournament. 

Contact Luke Adragna at ladragna@alligator.org. Follow him on Twitter @lukeadrag

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Luke Adragna

Luke Adragna is a third-year journalism student and the Florida Gators football reporter at The Alligator. He is a cat ethusiast and completes the NYT Daily Mini in less than a minute each day.


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