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Wednesday, February 28, 2024

Rachel Gailis overcomes midseason struggles, finishes breakout year

The freshman found her footing to finish her season 22-7

Freshman Rachel Gailis serves the ball in the Gators' 4-1 victory against the Michigan Wolverines Wednesday, March 22, 2023.
Freshman Rachel Gailis serves the ball in the Gators' 4-1 victory against the Michigan Wolverines Wednesday, March 22, 2023.

Gators women’s tennis freshman Rachel Gailis exudes confidence. Her confidence bleeds through with expressive nature on the court. She went back to the drawing board after she endured a rugged stretch.

The freshman boasted a 4-2 record in singles midway through the season and faced her biggest uncertainty after a loss to the Kentucky Wildcats March 19. 

The Wildcats defeated the Gators 4-2, and Gailis swallowed the largest dose of the defeat when Kentucky senior Carlota Molina clinched the winning point against the freshman in a deciding set.

“That was probably the toughest loss of my actual tennis career,” Gailis said. “I was really struggling.”

Gailis wasn’t accustomed to failure. She committed to UF as a top recruit in the class of 2022. Her confidence continued to waver until the Gators approached their matchup against Arkansas April 2.

“She was at a dark place there, come March,” said UF head coach Roland Thornqvist. “And eventually, that got better.” 

Gailis placed an emphasis on confidence and positivity that week — which was all Thornqvist wanted her to focus on for the upcoming match.

“He told me the only thing that could really change my game is my mind and being positive,” Gailis said. “Even if I don’t feel good, I have to show I feel good.”

The freshman also found a boost in confidence in a rally session between her and her father, Alex Gailis.

The two focused on her tempo and went through an entire basket of balls before she managed to find her feel.

“I just told her to go slow,” Alex Gailis said.

The two gradually began to increase the pace until she finally found her stride.

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The seemingly simple rally session between them spawned an evolution in Gailis’ play. 

“When she’s on the courts, I can see her body language from far,” Alex Gailis said. “It’s not about her game or the technical aspect; it was all mental for her.”

Gailis won her singles matches against Missouri and Arkansas that weekend. She played a pivotal role in the Gators’ final regular season weekend and National Collegiate Athletic Association tournament run.

“It kind of took all my pressure away,” she said. “It brought me back to why I love playing, and it made me feel a lot more free.”

Florida entered its final weekend of regular season play with an important task. If the Gators won out, they’d secure the No. 4 seed in the Southeastern Conference tournament and earn an extra day of rest. 

The slate of games included the No. 61 Alabama Crimson Tide and the No. 15 Auburn Tigers. The latter held the No. 4 seed at the time.

The freshman orchestrated wins in both of her singles and doubles matchups against Alabama. 

Gailis and Florida senior Carly Briggs defeated Crimson Tide sophomore Petra Sedlackova and junior Anna Parkhomenko 6-3. 

The Delray Beach, Florida, native improved upon UF’s lead with a 6-3, 6-2 victory against Parkhomenko in singles.

The Gators defeated Alabama 4-1 and set up a pivotal matchup against Auburn for the fourth seed. 

Gailis and Briggs picked up right where they left off and earned a 6-1 doubles victory against Tigers junior Adeline Flach and freshman Angella Okutoyi. Gaillis wrapped up her weekend with a 6-2, 3-6, 6-3 victory versus freshman Kaitlyn Carnicella to help secure the No. 4 seed in the SEC tournament.

The freshman joined sophomore Alicia Dudeney among seven other players in Florida’s history to earn SEC hardware twice in one season.

Though the wins didn’t amount to success in the SEC tournament, the victory lifted the Gators above the Tigers in NCAA seeding and allowed Florida to host its region for the first two rounds of the tournament.

There, Gailis had her full-circle moment.

The freshman had the opportunity to clinch the match against the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets on an even grander stage. 

Gailis led forty-love and needed one more point to secure a victory in a deciding set of the NCAA tournament second round against Georgia Tech then-freshman Alejandra Cruz.

Gailis returned Cruz’s serve, and after many back-and forth-strokes, immaculately placed a ball which the Yellow Jackets freshman couldn’t return. Gailis’ teammates mobbed her and clinched the victory for the Gators.

The freshman concluded her season with a 16-3 record in dual-meet singles, seven consecutive singles victories and two SEC Freshman of the Week awards.

“I try to not set too many expectations for myself,” Gailis said. “But one thing I do expect is to give 100% all the time.”

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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