GAINESVILLE, Fla. (April 22, 2022) - Florida women's tennis is back in the semifinal round of the Southeastern Conference Tournament for the first time since 2018 after a gritty victory over fifth-seeded and No. 30 Arkansas, 4-1, on Friday morning.
The No. 15 Gators (19-5, 10-3 SEC), who won four singles matches to advance, improved to a perfect 4-0 against Arkansas (16-9, 8-5 SEC) in the SEC Tournament and now boast a 32-2 mark in the quarterfinal round. Overall, their record moves to 79-13 at the championships.
Friday was a battle from the opening point in Linder Stadium. During doubles competition, the duo of Carly Briggs and Emma Shelton got out to a fast start, opening-up a 2-0 lead over Kelly Keller and Indianna Spink on court three. The Razorbacks responded quickly, however, and shut down the Gators for a 6-1 victory.
With the Orange & Blue needing the remaining two matches, the No. 28 pair of Alicia Dudeney and McCartney Kessler delivered in a big way. Arkansas took the first game, but Kessler and Dudeney pulled ahead 3-1 midway through the match. Their opposition wouldn't fold, however, coming back to even the match at three before the Gators put their foot on the gas for a 6-3 match victory over No. 45 Tatum Rice and Morgan Cross.
All eyes fell on court two to decide the doubles point in the most exciting doubles match of the day. Matched up against Lenka Stara and Laura Rijkers, Bente Spee and Marlee Zein fell behind quickly, facing a 1-4 deficit late in the match. A gritty pair, Florida battled back within 3-5. Down 15-40, the Gators faced triple match point against the Razorbacks, but rallied to win the game and close the gap to 4-5. The final game of the match came down to deuce point and after a rally at the net, Arkansas claimed the match and doubles point, 6-4.
Needing four victories to claim the match, Florida embraced the challenge against the 30th-ranked Razorbacks. At the six singles position, Shelton was dominant for the Gators. The junior made quick work of her opponent, Laura Rijkers: 6-1, 6-1 to even the match at one early in singles competition.
At the top singles position, No. 11 Kessler had to work hard for a victory. After falling behind 1-3 to open the first set, Kessler rattled-off three-straight wins to regain the lead at 4-3. The graduate didn't look back after taking the lead, winning the first set 6-4 before putting No. 68 Rice away for good in the second set, 6-1.
On court three, freshman Alicia Dudeney remained on a hot streak, earning the third point of the day for the Orange & Blue. After rolling to a 6-2 first set win over Spink, the freshman found herself in a neck-and-neck second set. The two exchanged blows throughout the set, coming to a head when a 6-6 tiebreaker was forced to decide the match. In similar fashion to the rest of the second set, it was a back-and-forth affair. With the scored tied at five, the United Kingdom native claimed back-to-back points to claim the match and put the Gators just one victory away from the overall match win.
The clincher for the Gators would come from court five on Friday morning, as Sara Dahlstrom delivered a strong comeback performance against Morgan Cross. The sophomore ended the first set on the losing side of a close set, falling 6-7(4) in a tiebreaker. The defeat didn't carry over to the next two sets, as Dahlstrom swept Cross: 6-0, 6-0, in the remaining sets to secure the Gators victory.
Even though the last two court were unable to finish, the Orange & Blue were sitting in a good spot for the last two points. Matching up with Keller of Arkansas, No. 72 Zein quickly found herself trailing 0-3 at two singles in the first frame. With it looking like the match could get away from her, the senior flipped a switch to win five-straight games and reclaim the lead, eventually taking the set, 6-4. Keller bounced back for a hard-fought 7-5 second set win before the Gator developed a 3-0 lead in the last set.
At the four singles slot, Briggs showed perhaps the most determination of the day. The junior dropped set one, 4-6, and faced a daunting 5-2 hole in set two. Determined to stay on the court and help continue to give UF momentum, Briggs exploded for five-consecutive victories to take the second set, 7-5. Similar to Zein, the Calhoun, Ga., native was opening up a lead in the third set, ending with a 3-1 advantage.
Florida will be back in action on Saturday afternoon at 12 p.m. ET when they will take-on the winner of the first-seeded and SEC regular season champion, Texas A&M, or eighth-seeded Vanderbilt for a chance to go to the championship match on Sunday. Saturday's matchup will be streamed live on SEC Network+.