UF men’s tennis faces tough non-SEC test

The Florida men’s tennis team proved last week that they can handle any team within the Southeastern Conference.

On Thursday at 5 p.m., the No. 15 Gators (11-3) will face two-time defending national champion University of Southern California Trojans in Linder Stadium at the Ring Tennis Complex.

The No. 13-ranked Gators will depend heavily on senior Alexandre Lacroix, the No. 6 singles player in the country and the all-time leader in doubles wins at the Univ. of Fla.

Gators head coach Andy Jackson knows the importance that Lacroix has on the team.

“Alex is the leader of our team in both the singles and doubles, in the practice court and in the classroom,” Jackson said. “In my opinion he is as good as anyone in the country in those areas.”

Lacroix is not the only ITA Div. 1 ranked singles player on the team. Sophomore Sekou Bangoura Jr. is No. 32 and junior Nassim Slilam is No. 125. The Gators also have two doubles teams in the latest ITA rankings.

Besides sporting back-to-back national championships, the No. 7 Trojans (13-2) have the No. 1 singles player in the country in junior Steve Johnson. Coming into this matchup against UF, Johnson has a 12 consecutive singles match-winning streak and an overall record of 25-3. The head coach Peter Smith, is the 2010 ITA National Coach of the Year.

Following their SEC wins against Alabama (6-1) and Auburn (4-3) away from Gainesville, the Gators head into their meeting against USC with quality wins. The two SEC matches happened to be freshman Spencer Newman’s first SEC trip away from Gainesville.

Newman, 17 years old from Miami, enrolled at UF in January. By mid-March, he beat his first two opponents on the road in SEC play. Jackson knows that Newman will be needed for the push for the SEC postseason and NCAA Tournament.

“If we want to be a top 10, top 5 program to be in the hunt for the championships, we are going to be depending on him to make those jumps up and hopefully he can continue that,” Jackson said.

Although USC is a non-SEC opponent, Jackson still sees the meeting as a stepping-stone for the entire team.

“It’s a big match for us because we want to host the NCAA Regionals. USC will be a top-5 win by the end of the year,” Jackson said. “It’s a high-quality team that gives us a chance to see if we can improve the level of our team.”

Gator Country reporter Adam Pincus can be reached at adamp.panther@gmail.com. You can also follow him on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/adamDpincus