• UF Men’s Tennis Regional NCAA Recap

    By Mike Hoctor

    The Gators were a bit rusty after a three week hiatus between matches. But when they took the courts on Friday to begin the Gainesville Regional of the NCAA Division 1 National Championship Tournament, the team came to life very quickly against first round foe South Carolina State. The MEAC champion Bulldogs were no match for the seventh seeded Gators. The doubles point was quickly won in 50 minutes by number one doubles team Alex Lacroix and Sekou Bangoura, as well as number two doubles team Nassim Slilam and Billy Federhofer. When the doubles point was clinched, the number three doubles team of Bob Van Oberbeek and Andrew Butz were ahead 7-4, as the match was terminated.

    In singles, the Gators made short work of South Carolina State. Number six singles player Spencer Newman overwhelmed his South Carolina State counterpart, 6-1, 6-1. Nassim Slilam, elevated to the number two singles slot, followed suit with a 6-1, 6-3 victory. The match clincher was applied by Sekou Bangoura 6-2, 6-1. The other three singles matches involving Gators Alex Lacroix, Bob Van Oberbeek, and Billy Federhofer were stopped, with the Gator singles players comfortably ahead. The team win meant the Gators would now move from the round of 64, in the tournament, to the round of 32, to face instate nemesis Miami on Saturday afternoon.

    Saturday’s play begin in the women’s bracket of the Gainesville regional innocently enough, however the weather changed abruptly bringing rain delays that totaled six plus hours. Once the two women’s matches had been completed around 9:00 PM Saturday evening, the Gators and Canes took the court to try and play. Under the lights, the Gators came out firing on all doubles cylinders. The number two doubles team of Nassim Slilam and Billy Federhofer controlled play throughout their doubles pro set, pulling away from Blocker and Chin of Miami for an 8-2 victory. At number one doubles, Alex Lacroix and Sekou Bangoura were equally efficient and demolished Miami’s Crowley and Aly 8-2. With the doubles point in hand, the number three doubles match involving Bob Van Oberbeek and Andrew Butz, was stopped on serve with Miami’s Ast and Pavia leading 7-6.

    In the locker room, there was little reason to remind the Gator team, that two years ago, this Miami team cut the heart out of the Gators in the NCAA Regional Final. During that match, the Gators had also won the doubles point, and needed to split the singles matches in order to win. However the Canes came back from losing the doubles point, to overcome the 2008-09 Gators and beat them in Gainesville 4-3. In looking around the locker room, Saturday evening at each player, it was more then apparent that this team was not about to let this scenario occur in 2011.

    As the clock moved past ten PM Saturday evening, on each of the six singles courts, the Gator players surged ahead. But mother nature was not going to let this play out Saturday, as the rains once again came in and postponed the Gator tennis freight train for the evening. At 10:45 PM the tournament officials decided play would resume Sunday morning at 10:30 AM. Once again in the locker room, the team was reminded that in order to complete this mission and advance to the Sweet Sixteen in Palo Alto, each player would have to remain focused and not let this over night delay distract them.

    The team came back Sunday morning, just as the coaches hoped, ready to complete the task of defeating a pesky Miami team. Nassim Slilam, at two singles, continued his impressive play and never gave his Miami opponent, senior Christian Blocker, a chance to get into the match. After a 6-2 first set victory, Nas never took his foot off the gas pedal, and disposed of Blocker with another 6-2 second set victory for the win.

    Senior Alex Lacroix, playing his last match at the Linder Tennis Stadium in Gainesville, went out with a bang! Alex competing as hard as he always does, intimidated Miami senior Keith Crowley with his intensity and shot making. Alex sprinted to a 6-1, 6-1 victory, capping a tremendous four year run at home. With the win, Alex became the all time total wins record holder. Alex passed former Gator letterman Justin O’Neal’s 208 total victories, with his 209th total win. Alex now goes down in Gator Men’s Tennis lore, as the all time winningest player. What else can you say about a player that epitomizes all that is good in a Gator student athlete!

    The clincher for Florida came from court six. Miami native, Spencer Newman, was on his own mission. After beating Miami’s Pedro Ast 6-0 in the first set, Spencer could smell the finish line for himself and this Gator team. A team that had now experienced the lows of multiple 3-4 defeats, only to grow in stature and experience and win the SEC Tournament title three weeks previously, was on the brink of the biggest victory of the season. A win that would send this NCAA National Tournament seventh seeded Gators to the promised land of collegiate tennis in Palo Alto, for the Sweet Sixteen and beyond. Spencer forged ahead in the second set, but Ast was not finished and gamely fought off defeat to extend the set to 5-4 in Spencer’s favor. Spencer worked his way through multiple match points and pulled out this Gator victory 6-4, ending the match and once again sending this Gator Men’s Tennis Team into instantaneous celebration mode. Sekou Bangoura, Bob Van Overbeek, and Billy Federhofer singles matches did not need to be finished, once Spencer clinched team victory for the Gators. Every Gator player dropped their racket and quickly joined Spencer Newman to drink in this accomplishment. The 4-0 team victory over Miami avenged that day two years previously, and more importantly propelled the Gator team into the Sweet Sixteen.

    Only once in the ten year Andy Jackson era, at Florida, had one of his team’s not experienced the Sweet Sixteen. This is a legacy of success that is impressive. One of this year’s team goals was quite obviously reaching the third round of NCAA championship play. However this year, the team is not satisfied with just getting to the round of sixteen in the NCAA tournament. This team has gained enormous amounts of self confidence over the past month. The 2011 Gator’s Men’s Tennis Team is flying to Palo Alto, California Monday with one thing in mind. Winning the National Championship. There will be fifteen other teams at Stanford starting Thursday with the same goals. The difference is that this Gator team now knows they are capable of beating anyone in the championship field. The next step occurs Thursday, May 19th at 3:00 PM Pacific Time, against SEC rival Kentucky. Both teams know each other so very well, and have split two previous meetings in Gainesville this year. The team that believes in itself, and handles the peripheral atmosphere of a championship site, will emerge victorious. We believe to a man that that team will be your Florida Gators! Thank you for your tremendous support this past weekend, during regional play, and all season. This team is a group all of you can be extremely proud of, as they first learned to crawl competitively this year, and then sprang upright and walked, and now we are ready to make a run at the ultimate championship! Go Gators!

    Mike Hoctor
    University of Florida Tennis

Comments are closed.