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After splitting its matches for the fourth week in a row, the Florida men’s tennis team looks to start April on a strong note with two matches against top-15 opponents. The Gators will travel to No. 7 Ole Miss on Friday at 5 p.m. and host No. 13 Mississippi State on Sunday at 1 p.m.
Entering the first weekend of April, Florida is 10-8 overall and has a 4-4 record in the Southeastern Conference with four league matches remaining before the conference tournament April 17-21 in Oxford, Miss. A strong close to the SEC season would put UF in good position for postseason action, but the Gators must take advantage of the few opportunities they have remaining.
“The nice thing about last weekend was that on Sunday when we played Arkansas, our guys really did a great job of getting on top early in the doubles and we were able to finish it,” said head coach Bryan Shelton. “It’s always important, not only to start well, but to finish well. I was really proud of how we bounced back last weekend against Arkansas against a well-coached team. We were able to finish the job.”
After blanking Arkansas 4-0 last Sunday, Florida hopes to have some momentum carry over to this week’s matches. It won’t be an easy task though, as Ole Miss (13-5, 6-3 SEC) sits atop the SEC West and tied for second overall in the conference. Although Mississippi State (13-7, 3-5 SEC) has seven losses on the season, all seven are to teams ranked in the current top 15.
‘[Against Arkansas] we got up and our guys played their best tennis at the end of the matches,” said Coach Shelton. “That’s so important as you try to build confidence. Confidence comes from winning, having success. It was good for us to have success on Sunday and we’d like to be able to carry that over through this week in our preparation for Ole Miss and Mississippi State.
“We do know something about most of the guys on their teams that we’ll be facing and there will definitely be some challenges this weekend. We have two great opportunities to have success again and build on last weekend.”
Something that the Gators will need to improve is their consistency in late match situations. Last Friday against LSU, Florida ended up losing three matches after taking a set from the Tigers. Coach Shelton continues to see the ability from his team, but the players often have to win the battle in their own heads to succeed during a match.
“A lot of time the most important conversation the guys have is the one inside their own head,” Coach Shelton said. “When doubt creeps in, as it does in sports and everything else, you’ve got to be able to silence it. You’ve got to be able to think about something positive and get yourself in the right frame of mind and go out there and play boldly and with conviction. I think we’ve done that at certain points throughout this season, and at other times I think we’ve let doubt win the war inside our own heads.”
Oftentimes players tend to focus on the past, points lost or forehands missed or winners hit, instead of centering their focus on the next point. Shelton constantly reminds his team to stay in the moment.
“Stay in the moment, understand what you’re about to do, see it happen and be able to visualize it before it happens,” said Coach Shelton. “If that’s your mindset, that’s all positive. The more positive these guys are going into every single point, every single game, every single situation, the better chance they have for success. Whatever the mind believes, the mind can achieve. We have to get them in that right frame of mind so that they can go out there and have success every point.”
Coach Shelton is hoping his team will slow down in those moments this weekend and understand the situation and the plan that needs to be executed. If that can happen like it did last week against Arkansas, Shelton feels the Gators can continue to have success the rest of this season.
“That’s certainly something that we want to do against Ole Miss when we go there on Friday, and obviously when we come home and play on Sunday,” said Shelton. “I was really excited about last Sunday, against Arkansas. Easter Sunday, the men’s basketball team trying to get to the Final Four, at the same time we’re playing, we had a great fan base out there. I was really impressed with how many people came out to support our team. Our guys really appreciated that as well.”
Fans that are interested in following along can track live scoring for Friday’s match through the Ole Miss web site. Sunday’s home match against Mississippi State be at Linder Stadium at the Ring Tennis Complex and admission is free. Live scoring for Sunday’s match will be available through GatorZone.com and updates will also be posted via twitter (@GatorZoneTennis).