Gator Tennis Set for a Big Year

Tennis season is a few weeks away, but the Gators boast men's and women's teams who come into the season with a top ten ranking. The men are ranked No. 9, but the women come into the season ranked No. 2 after finishing last season as the NCAA runner-up.

The women's team fell to Stanford, who enters the 2011 season as No. 1, in the NCAA final last season, 4-3. The bar was set high, and the high ranking coming into this season shows that expectations remain at the same level.

The women had five members of the top 30 singles players in the country. Sophomore Allie Will is No. 7, freshman Olivia Janowicz is No. 22, freshman Alex Cercone is No. 28, junior Joanna Mather is No. 30. Freshman Sofie Oyen is No. 96.

The Gators also have the No. 1 women's doubles team in Oyen and Will. Mather and sophomore Caroline Hitimana are ranked No. 56 on the doubles list.

The women's team should get a boost during the middle of the season. Sophomore Lauren Embree missed the 2010 fall season because of injury and didn't earn an individual ranking. However, last season Embree played the No. 1 singles position for the Gators and was recognized as the 2010 Intercollegiate Tennis Association National Rookie of the Year and the 2010 Southeastern Conference Player of the Year.

If her teammates can lead the team to a fast start, they have a chance at a special season once Embree returns.

Embree, Mather, Cercone and Janowicz are scheduled to play in the Freeman Memorial hosted by UNLV on January 13-16. The Gators will face the U.S. Junior National Team on January 19 at 4 p.m. in Gainesville. They will take on UCF on January 26 at 5 p.m.

The men's team returns five letterwinners from last season's team that went 12-5 and reached the Round of 16 in the NCAA Tournament.

Senior Alexandre Lacroix leads the singles player, ranked NO. 4 in the country heading into the season. He earned All-American honors in singles and doubles last season after posting a 14-2 record in individual action over the fall season.

Two men who are coming off seasons where they were named to the 2010 SEC All-Freshman team, Sekou Bangoura Jr. and Bob van Overbeek, will help Lacroix. Bangoura comes into the season ranked No. 28 in singles, while van Overbeek starts the year at No. 52. It's the highest either have risen up the polls in their careers.

Junior Nassim Slilam and sophomore Billy Federhofer are the final two returning letterwinners. Freshmen Michael Alford and Andrew Butz will also see action this spring.

The Gators will use a spring enrollee as Spencer Newman, ranked as a top-15 national recruit by, will join the team.

Florida kicks off the spring at the SEC Indoor Championships before opening the team session in Gainesville on January 21 against Furman.

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