COLLEGE STATION, Texas - The No. 24 University of Florida women's tennis team (12-10, 7-6) battled to a 4-2 victory over No. 43 Ole Miss Thursday afternoon in the second round of the SEC Women's Tennis Tournament held at the Mitchell Tennis Center on the campus of Texas A&M.
Freshman Marlee Zein added her third match-clinching victory of the season when she posted a 6-3, 6-7 (5-7), 6-3 win from court four. It was the reigning SEC Freshman of the Week's third straight win.
No. 15 Ida Jarlskog, No. 35 McCartney Kessler, and freshman Sydney Berlin also notched singles wins as the Gators stormed back after dropping the doubles point.
UF claimed its 13th straight victory over Ole Miss and improved to 10-1 over the Rebels in SEC Tournament play as it came out on the winning end of a match that saw two weather delays and lasted over four hours.
With the win the 7th-seeded Gators advance to the tournament's quarterfinal round and will take on the 2nd-seeded South Carolina Gamecocks (17-3, 12-1) at 11 am ET on Friday. The Gators improved to 78-11 all time in the SEC Tournament with their win over No. 10 seed Ole Miss.
Florida faced an early deficit as the Rebels earned the doubles point with wins on all three courts. The Rebels started off fast by getting out to early leads in all three contests and held their ground despite a late charge on courts one and three from Florida. After court two went final with a 6-1 verdict in favor of Ole Miss, Florida trailed 5-3 on the remaining two courts but both Gator tandems fought back to force tiebreaks. Despite the late rally, Ole Miss held on for wins in both matches as No. 42 Kessler/Emma fell 6-7 (5-7) and Berlin/Zein dropped a 6-7 (3-7) decision as their two-match win streak come to a close.
The Gators struggled in the very early stages of singles as Ole Miss claimed the opening game on five of the six courts. Florida would quickly find its focus and collectively shake off the slow start as it ended up winning sets on five courts.
Berlin tallied Florida's first scoring of the afternoon when she pulled out a win from court six. She cruised to a 6-1, 6-1 victory over Cameron Kriscunas and won for the second time in as many matches. No. 35 Kessler advanced UF's momentum with a 7-6 (9-7), 6-1 victory over No. 73 Tea Jandric on court two. After a tight opening set, Kessler cruised in the second to nab her sixth top 100 win of the season. Ole Miss evened the count at 2-2 when Alex Bortles defeated Tsveta Dimitrova, 6-4, 6-4.
With all three remaining matches reaching the third set, Jarlskog's bout was the first to finish as the sophomore posted a 6-3, 3-6, 6-4 win to give the Gators a 3-2 edge. The Georgia Tech transfer registered her 10th victory over a ranked foe this season, a team best.
Zein, on court four, and No. 124 Victoria Emma, on three, both had matches in flight and both led late. With Zein leading 5-2 in the deciding set and Emma tied at 5-5, the clouds opened up and brought on the match's second weather delay. Following the brief stoppage in play, the match resumed and Zein, after dropping a game, clinched it for the Gators with her three-set victory.
Emma saw her match go unfinished at 6-3, 2-6, 5-6.
UF improved to 6-6 when dropping the doubles point and claimed its third win its last four outings.
No. 5 South Carolina (17-3, 12-1) enters the postseason riding a seven match winning streak and finished in second place in the SEC standings. No. 4 Ingrid Gamarra Martins, No. 23 Paige Cline and No. 84 Mia Horvit represent South Carolina in the ITA rankings in singles. Horvit and Gamarra Martins are the nation's No. 1 doubles unit and have posted a 12-2 record in the dual match season. Florida leads the series between the programs 44-3 and owns a 8-0 edge over the Gamecocks in SEC Tournament action.
The Gators and Gamecocks met just six days ago as visiting South Carolina pulled out the 4-2 win in Gainesville. After dropping the doubles point and getting off to a slow start in singles, the Gators were in contention on the remaining three courts and pushed all three matches to third sets, but couldn't quite complete the comeback. Taking on a top 15 opponent for the second time in as many matches, Florida saw two freshman pick up impressive victories as Zein and Berlin accounted for both of UF's scores.