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Slew of teams shoot for titles this week
By Times Staff
Published April 18, 2006
GAINESVILLE - It's championship week in Gainesville, including football and NCAA tennis on campus this weekend.
Two weeks after the men's basketball team won its first national championship, several other Gator programs will compete for championships. The golf and tennis teams will compete in the SEC tournament, and the gymnastics team competes in the NCAA championships Thursday through Sunday in Corvallis, Ore.
The SEC women's tennis tournament will be Thursday through Sunday at the Ring Tennis Complex in Gainesville. UF, the four-time defending tournament champion, opens play against Mississippi or South Carolina at 10 a.m. Friday. Florida (18-1, 11-0 SEC) is ranked No.3 in the nation and is the tournament's No.1 seed, but coach Roland Thornqvist said the team won't take the homefield advantage as a sign of a promised championship.
"The road to the title is actually pretty difficult," Thornqvist said. "We're going to play a fantastic team in the quarterfinals, both have really good lineups, and if we happen to win that one, we'll get either Georgia or Tennessee. I like the fact that we're home, but we're certainly not going to look through anybody."
Make no mistake, "home" has been a huge advantage for Florida.
The Gators are 131-1 at home against SEC opponents, 6-0 this season. The women have won 12 straight dual matches, led by junior Nina Suvak , who has won a team-high 12 consecutive singles matches.
"This is about as good an opportunity that you're going to have, playing at home, and we have a good team," Thornqvist said. "We just can't get too overanxious or overconfident."
After losing four of five matches midway through the season (three of its six losses were to teams ranked in the nation's Top 6), the men's tennis team has won five straight and is looking for one or two more to secure a host position of an NCAA region match.
"If we win one match, I think our chance goes to 60 to 70 percent; if we win two that puts us over the top" to host, coach Andy Jackson said.
Florida is the No.2 seed and plays Tennessee or South Carolina at 11 a.m. Friday. The Gators lost their best player, freshman Ryan Sweeting , midway through the season after his arrest and suspension from the team.
Still, Jackson is about as optimistic entering the tournament as he has been in a long time.
"We feel great about our team right now," he said. "We've had time where we've had some continuity and we're gaining a little bit of confidence and trying to figure out our identity. I don't feel like we're playing nearly as well as we can, but we're playing way better than we did."
The gymnastics team (20-4) will compete at the NCAA championships beginning Thursday in Corvallis, Ore. The top three teams in each of Thursday's sessions will advance to the Super Six on Friday. A winner will be determined from that group. It is the 24th NCAA gymnastics championships appearance for the Gators, who won the South Central Region on April 8.
The men's golf team will compete at Sea Island, Ga., and the title, at least on paper, is a two-way battle between No.1 Georgia and No.3 Florida (Golfweek national rankings), but coach Buddy Ryan said other teams could make a run.
"Tennessee, Alabama, South Carolina; Kentucky just won a tournament and they are defending conference champions," Ryan said.
ONE LAST FOOTBALL GAME: If you're in need of a shot of football, Saturday is your last chance to see the Gators until August. The annual Orange and Blue game is at 1:30 at Florida Field.
--Antonya English covers Florida athletics. She can be reached at 813 226-3389 or firstname.lastname@example.org