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Tuesday, May 21, 2024
Florida women's tennis pairing of Alicia Dudeney and Malwina Rowinska high-five each other after a point in the team's match against Mississippi State on Friday, March 29, 2024.
Florida women's tennis pairing of Alicia Dudeney and Malwina Rowinska high-five each other after a point in the team's match against Mississippi State on Friday, March 29, 2024.

Heading into their 2024 seasons, the Florida men's and women's tennis teams expected to make deep runs in the NCAA Tournament.

The women's team headed into the season looking to advance past the Sweet 16 for the first time since 2017.

Florida kicked off the season ranked No. 10 in the ITA, with three ranked singles players and two ranked doubles teams leading the way for its lineup.

Moreover, the men's team was ranked No. 23 after bringing in the No. 4-ranked recruiting class in the nation, according to the Tennis Recruiting Network.

First-year head coach Adam Steinberg had the opportunity to work with a talented squad that featured four ranked singles players and two ranked doubles teams.

However, after up-and-down seasons, neither team advanced past the Second Round of the NCAA Tournament.

The women's squad fell just short in the second round of the NCAA Tournament to Miami, bringing its season to an end with a 17-9 record.

It was the first time Florida’s women’s program failed to reach the Sweet 16 since 2018.

“Some years it’s easy to know exactly what to say,” said Florida head coach Roland Thornqvist following the team’s loss May 5. “Then you have some years you really love the team and the way they worked together all year and how they invested, like this team.” 

Florida impressively had a hot start to the season with a four-match winning streak while qualifying for ITA National Indoors in late January.

Though, a brutal slate was on the horizon for UF. The Gators were set to face five straight top-15 opponents and went on to drop all five matches.

In early March, the Gators had a record of just 5-7 and were fresh off losses against SEC foes Georgia and Texas A&M. 

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But then, everything seemed to change.

As the Gators began working their way through conference play, Florida caught fire and started to click en route to an 11-match conference winning streak featuring nine ranked victories.

Thornqvist switched up his doubles pairings, and the adjustments to the lineup paid dividends for Florida.

In the season’s remaining 13 matches with the newly paired doubles, Florida won the doubles point and headed into singles play with the all-important advantage.

Thornqvist placed many of his more experienced players, graduate student Carly Briggs and juniors Alicia Dudeney and Bente Spee, with the team’s fresher faces, freshman Qavia Lopez and Malwina Rowinska and sophomore Rachel Gailis.

The strategy worked well, allowing the newcomers to develop alongside their teammates who knew what it takes to win on the collegiate level.

The Gators found their stride in singles play, none more than Gailis, who became a fixture on Court 1 in singles play for UF and emerged as one of the top players in the nation.

Gailis, who started the season as the No. 63 singles player in the country, had a dominant sophomore campaign, tallying a 24-8 record while racking up seven victories over ranked opponents.

The sophomore, now ranked as the No. 8 player in the nation, stressed the importance of bouncing back from adversity over the course of the season no matter the obstacles she faced.

“So even though it was tough, the way that I thought about it afterward was, if that’s my lowest point, I still have a lot of room to grow,” said Gailis May 4 after the team’s win over Stetson.

Alongside Gailis, senior Sara Dahlstrom and Briggs were both mainstays in the singles top 100 in 2024.

Dahlstrom battled early injuries but delivered an impressive season, finishing 13-9 in singles play while peaking at No. 52 nationally.

Meanwhile, Briggs also served as Florida’s team captain to end the duel season on a season-best nine-match winning streak in singles play.

“We are just really proud of how they [Dahlstrom and Briggs] came and got their work done every day,” Thornqvist said May 5. “I’m really grateful for everything they have done and how they invested, and what they were willing to sacrifice.”

The season came to a disappointing end in the Second Round against Miami, as Florida suffered a nail-biting 4-3 loss in a match that could have gone either way. Despite UF taking the doubles point, the Hurricanes were able to outmatch the Gators in singles play, winning four of six singles bouts.

Despite the disappointing end to their campaign, Thornqvist was adamant that his team did all they could.

“We gave it everything we had to the very, very, very last point,” he said.

Meanwhile, the Gators men's tennis team headed into the season with more questions than its counterparts.

Following the 2023 season, the Gators had lost seven players from their roster for various reasons, as well as the departure of head coach Bryan Shelton, who led the program for 11 seasons.

Few people knew what to expect coming into the 2024 season with a new head coach, Adam Steinberg, and a roster that included seven freshmen. 

Florida’s season came to an end in the first round of the NCAA Tournament after losing 4-3 to the UCF Knights, whom the Gators beat 6-1 earlier in the season. 

“I think the team grew a lot,” Coach Steinberg said. “I think they accomplished so many positive things. It definitely didn’t end the way that we wanted… but for as young as we were and as depleted as we were in the fall, I’m very proud of the coaches and our players.”

After an up-and-down season for the Gators, UF finished its spring season with a 13-12 record in dual matches, including a 6-6 record in SEC play. 

It was a tale of two teams for Florida this season, boasting an 11-1 record at home but just 2-11 when on the road.

Steinberg attributed the team’s struggles away from home to the youth of the team.

“For a lot of these guys, on the road in hostile environments, for a lot of them it was their first time experiencing that… and I don’t think we handled it as well as we could,” Steinberg said. “I think just having this year under their belt going into next year, many of them will definitely be used to it and handle it better.”

The Gators opened their spring schedule with three home wins followed by four straight losses against ranked opponents in road territory. 

Florida went on another three-match win streak at home, where UF took down UCF and its first two SEC opponents, LSU and formerly No. 12-ranked Texas A&M, to open conference play.

With seven freshmen on the team, it allowed the opportunity for some of them to step up in huge moments for the Gators. 

Freshman Aidan Kim shined this season with a 12-11 singles season record but finished 7-3 in his last 10 matches. 

The majority of Kim’s time in the doubles lineup was spent playing alongside junior Nate Bonetto. The duo posted a 10-9 record and reached a season-high ranking of No. 23 in the ITA doubles rankings.

The Gators also dealt with injury troubles throughout the season, turning the lower half of their lineup seemingly into a revolving door.

Freshman Adhithya Ganesan stressed the importance of staying healthy early in the season.

“We are gonna almost be playing every week, so I gotta make sure to stay healthy,” Ganesan said. 

Not long after, Ganesan was sidelined, putting a halt to his hot start to the year, where Ganesan won his first five singles matches.

Despite an up-and-down year, Steinberg is excited for the direction and future of this team.

“It may be the most excited I’ve ever been as a coach just to see our program move forward,” Steinberg said. “See these young guys keep growing. I think the fall is gonna be really, really exciting and great for them.”

Contact Max Bernstein at Follow him on X @maxbernstein23. Contact Chandler Hawkes at Follow him on X @HawkesChandler.

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