UF men's tennis takes SEC tourney title

The University of Florida's Bob van Overbeek, left, celebrates a doubles match win with his partner Andrew Butz, against the University of Kentucky in the SEC Championship match in Linder Stadium at the Ring Tennis Complex at the University of Florida, in Gainesville on Sunday. The Gators won the SEC Championship over the Wildcats.

Brad McClenny/Staff photographer
Published: Sunday, April 24, 2011 at 4:57 p.m.
Last Modified: Sunday, April 24, 2011 at 4:57 p.m.

When the regular season ended, the UF men's tennis team insisted it was better than its record of 14-8. Hosting the Southeastern Conference Tournament just seemed like the best opportunity to prove it.

The fifth-seeded Gators continued their run of SEC upsets on Sunday, beating No. 3 seed Kentucky 4-0 in the tournament final before an estimated crowd of 437 fans at the Ring Tennis Complex.

The Wildcats (26-8) were one of six teams that beat UF 4-3 during the regular season.

"Especially after all the 4-3 losses, we wanted to show everyone that we are a good team, a young team, but we like working hard," said Florida senior Alexandre Lacroix, who was named the tournament MVP. "We knew that at one point it was paying off, and it paid off today. I'm really proud."

It was only fitting that despite the final score, Florida played a very close match with Kentucky.

"We were very fortunate to win an extremely close match," Florida coach Andy Jackson said. "It seems very fitting to me because it was about three hours and forty-five minutes, and that's maybe our 13th, 14th time like that. Our guys are just getting better in those situations.

"We've been saying when we were losing them that we were making progress, and I'm glad that the guys got a tangible reward for what the coaches have been telling them. I'm very proud of them."

The Gators (18-8) had to win four matches in four days to earn their first SEC Tournament title since 2005. Since the event started in 1990, Florida has won four times — 1994, 2000, 2005 and 2011. It was just the second time in the event's 22-year history a team won four times in four days. The other team was Jackson's Mississippi State squad in 1996.

Florida won the doubles point with wins on Courts 2 and 3. UF junior Nassim Slilam and sophomore Billy Federhofer defeated UK's Alberto Gonzalez and Tom Jomby 8-4. Florida sophomore Bob van Overbeek and freshman Andrew Butz beat UK's Alex Musialek and Anthony Rossi 8-5.

The Gators got singles wins by van Overbeek at No. 4 singles, followed by sophomore Sekou Bangoura Jr., on Court 2. Slilam clinched the tournament title on Court 3 with a 4-6, 6-4, 6-3 victory that set off a spirited celebration before the Gators hoisted the trophy to the delight of their fans.

“It feels great,” Slilam said. “To be able to win the last match is definitely amazing."

Even more so for Lacroix, who drew closer to Justin O'Neal's school record 208 combined wins (1997-2000) with two singles wins and a doubles win during Florida's four-day run. Lacroix added to his school record in doubles wins with his 99th on Friday and reached 107 singles wins with one on Thursday and another on Saturday. Lacroix is second all-time at UF with 206 combined wins.

"I'm so happy to win the SEC Tournament at home in my senior year," Lacroix said. "I'm really happy for the team, so proud of the guys.

"It means a lot. I didn't win any trophies in my years here. This is my first one in Gainesville for UF. We're going to try to keep the momentum."

Momentum is exactly what Jackson hopes to seize upon, now that his young team has begun to win close matches.

"A long time ago when we started taking the punches in the stomach, we said that we wanted our team's season defined in the NCAA," he said. "We're going to embrace that and we're going to get after it in the Round of 64 in two and a half weeks."

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