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Saturday, June 15, 2024

Gators stun underdog Rebels, advance to SEC Championships semifinals

Florida took over singles to snap Rebels’ tournament run

Florida sophomore Bente Spee celebrates during the Gators' 4-1 win against the No. 3 Michigan Wolverines Wednesday, March 22, 2023.
Florida sophomore Bente Spee celebrates during the Gators' 4-1 win against the No. 3 Michigan Wolverines Wednesday, March 22, 2023.

Very few expected the Ole Miss Rebels to reach the Southeastern Conference quarterfinals round in Fayetteville, Arkansas. The Rebels had a tough slate of games against the No. 13-seeded Missouri Tigers and the No. 5-seeded Auburn Tigers. But that didn’t shy the overlooked squad away from performing. 

Ole Miss swept the Missouri Tigers 4-0 and thrillingly upset Auburn, 4-3, in a match that went the distance. The victories extended their tournament play an extra day to face the well-rested No. 4 Florida Gators. 

Florida came out on top during the teams’ regular season matchup, fueled by a superb performance from sophomore Emily De Oliveira. 

The UF sophomore won her singles and doubles matchups, and Friday’s performance looked eerily similar. De Oliveira strung together two 6-2 set victories to help close the curtains on the Rebels and extend the Gators’ tournament play. 

The No. 4 Florida Gators (16-6, 9-4 SEC) defeated the No. 12 Ole Miss Rebels (11-13, 3-10 SEC) 4-0 Friday morning at Billingsley Tennis Center to advance to the Southeastern Conference Championships semifinals. The Gators pieced together a fantastic performance in doubles and singles play in pursuit of their shutout victory. 

Sophomores Alicia Dudeney and Bente Spee — the Intercollegiate Tennis Association’s No. 21-ranked doubles pair — got the rackets rolling and secured the first win in doubles against Rebels seniors Lillian Gabrielson and Kelsey Mize. The duo gave up just two games and defeated the Rebels 6-2.

The No. 74-ranked tandem of Florida senior Carly Briggs and freshman Rachel Gailis faced Rebels sophomores Rachel Krzyzak and Anaelle Leclercq. The pair grabbed an early 2-0 lead that quickly diminished when the Rebels came back to even the score at two apiece. Florida’s freshman-senior duo remained composed and nearly swept the final games for a 6-3 victory to secure the doubles point. 

UF senior Emma Shelton and freshman Sophie Williams trailed in their unfinished matchup against Ole Miss sophomore Ludmila Kareisova and freshman Emma Kette. A back-and-forth battle ensued, and the Rebels held a 5-3 lead before they were unable to clinch a victory. 

With the Gators achieving an early lead, they needed just three wins in singles play to advance to the SEC semifinals. Florida sophomore Emily De Oliveira knew the task at hand and executed it to perfection. The sophomore convincingly won both sets on Court 5 and defeated Krzyzak 6-2, 6-2. 

No. 100-ranked Dudeney — who was already up one set — closed in on another victory for Florida. The United Kingdom product battled Leclercq for a 6-3 first-set victory and closed the door with a 6-1 second-set performance. 

Florida needed one more victory and looked to No. 25 junior Sara Dahlstrom to close out the victory. 

Dahlstrom struggled early in her matchup against No. 50 Kareisova. The junior trailed 3-1 but refused to let up. Dahlstrom stormed back and squeaked by a 6-4 first-set victory. She carried all momentum into the second set and defeated Kareisova 6-2. 

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The win secured the sweep for Florida, and the ongoing matchups on the remainder of courts went unfinished. 

No. 45 Briggs entered a deciding set on Court 2 against Gabrielson. The Florida senior confidently jumped out the gates with a 6-2 first-set victory but was stifled in the second set and fell 6-2. Briggs led 2-1 in the final set before the match went unfinished. 

Gailis also entered a deciding set in her battle against Kette on Court 4. The Florida freshman led by three early in the competition but strung together several uncharacteristic errors. Kette stole the first set 6-4, and Gailis returned the favor with a 6-2 second-set win. 

Spee led midway through the second set against Rebels junior Reka Zadori. The competitors exchanged blows in the first set, but the Florida sophomore came out on top and won 7-6 (5). Spee carried her momentum into the second set and led 2-0 before the match was retired.

Florida is scheduled to next face the winner of the No. 8 Vanderbilt, No. 1 Texas A&M matchup. The match will take place at 12 p.m. Saturday and stay at Billingsley Tennis Center in Fayetteville, Arkansas. Steaming will be available on SEC+.

Contact Luke Adragna at 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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