thornqvist

UF women's tennis coach Roland Thornqvist: I think we are getting better and getting tougher. Our freshmen aren’t freshmen anymore, we are going to be ready for whatever comes our way.

The Florida women’s tennis team’s season hasn’t been stellar.

The Gators tallied their fewest wins this season since 1979 with 11. Florida has just two seasons in its 46-year history with double-digit losses. This year was one of them.

UF has been historically bad in Gainesville, holding a program-worst 6-7 home record.

Despite all these numbers implying that the Gators’ season has been an absolute bust, coach Roland Thornqvist believes it’s far from it.

“We just look like a completely different team than we did a few months ago,” Thornqvist said following Saturday’s 4-2 loss to South Carolina. “We look like a prototypical Florida team now where we compete and are emotionally engaged.”

He’s not wrong.

The Gators (11-10, 7-6 SEC) have impressed in the past few weeks, taking down two then-top-15 opponents in Texas A&M and Michigan and playing in three tightly contested 4-3 finishes against No. 7 Vanderbilt, No. 24 Kentucky and then-No. 23 LSU.

One reason Florida struggled so much out of the gate was health. Sophomore Victoria Emma started the season on the bench due to injury, while McCartney Kessler is nursing a lingering hip injury that has forced her out of a few matches. Though difficult to manage, Thornqvist attributes this as a main reason the Gators have found their stride as of late.

“I think we had some growing pains early in the year because we were playing a man down for the stretches,” he said. “When somebody goes down, that gives someone else an opportunity to step up.”

Those who stepped up were freshmen Sydney Berlin and Marlee Zein, who have been some of Florida’s brightest spots this season.

Berlin has won four matches in conference play on Courts 5 and 6, giving the Gators much-needed depth required to compete in a fierce SEC.

Zein has been one of Florida’s stars this season as well, tying a team-best seven singles wins in conference play. The freshman from Sugar Land, Texas, collected SEC Freshman of the Week earlier this season and held down Court 4 in Emma’s return with a team-leading seven wins.

The Gators will enter the SEC Tournament ranked in the latter half of the standings as the No. 7-seed. But Thornqvist believes his team is prepared for what’s to come.

“I think the trend is our friend,” Thornqvist said. “I think we are getting better and getting tougher. Our freshmen aren’t freshmen anymore, we are going to be ready for whatever comes our way.”

Follow Victor Prieto on Twitter @victorprieto_11 and contact him at [email protected].

Victor Prieto covers women's tennis and golf and has been with the Florida Alligator since Fall 2018.