That could be one word used to describe the Florida men’s tennis team’s 2018-19 season.
It reached the Final Four for only the third time in school history and the first time since 2005. Its 25-4 record was its best since 2000, Florida’s first Final Four appearance.
UF won the SEC regular season championship for the first time since 2005 and finished the conference season undefeated for the first time in sixteen years. Five Gators were also given bids at the NCAA Individual Championships.
Despite all its success, Florida’s season ended like every one before it: without an NCAA Championship.
This season seemed like it would be different. The Gators began the season ranked No. 4 with an Elite Eight appearance the year before. After winning their first five matches, they lost two out of the three matches played at the ITA National Team Indoor Championships in Chicago.
After those losses, Florida went on a remarkable run. It won its next 15 matches, with nine wins coming against teams ranked in the top 30, including wins over then-No. 2 Wake Forest, then-No. 7 Texas A&M and then-No. 10 Mississippi State. The Gators rolled into the SEC Tournament at home and seemed ready to win the it for the first time since 2016. Those dreams were dashed by Tennessee, who beat the Gators 4-3 in the semifinals.
Florida recovered in time for the NCAA Tournament, beating FGCU, FSU, Tennessee and Baylor to reach the Final Four.
In the semifinals, UF was overmatched by Texas and lost 4-2, falling short of that championship goal. The Longhorns would go on to beat defending champions Wake Forest and win the first title in school history.
In spite of the loss, the Gators have a lot to look forward to when next season comes around.
They will be returning nine players next season, and the team will most likely be led once again by Oliver Crawford. The sophomore ended the season ranked No. 9 in the country and finished with a record of 16-8, including wins over some of the nation’s top players.
Freshman Sam Riffice will play a big role on the team as well. Riffice entered UF as the No. 2 recruit in the country and lived up to the billing, finishing 19-7. Florida is hoping Riffice and fellow freshman Lukas Grief make improvements before their second season. Other players who are expected to play a big role are Duarte Vale, Andy Andrade and Johannes Ingildsen.
The Gators will be losing two key contributors in seniors McClain Kessler and Alfredo Perez. Both leave Florida will plenty of accolades. Perez was a two-time All-American for singles and doubles while Kessler was an All-American in doubles in 2018, although both players had a reduced role this past season.
Incoming freshmen Blaise Bicknell and Will Grant could fill the void left by Kessler and Perez. Both are five-star blue chip recruits and will be coming to Gainesville next season. According to Tennis Recruiting Network, Bicknell, from Miami, is the No. 15 recruit in the country, and Grant, from Orlando, is No. 25.
“Super, super proud of these guys,” coach Bryan Shelton said in a release after the loss to the Longhorns. “They’ll remember this championship. They’ll remember this season. All we can look at is what we have in front of us. I love our guys. The guys that are coming back are going to be better than ever.”
Follow Noah Ram on Twitter @noah_ram1 and contact him at [email protected].