It was a bit of a wait for the FGCU men’s tennis team waiting to see where they’ll be placed for the NCAA Men’s Tennis Tournament on Tuesday.
But settling in for a long night is nothing new for these Eagles.
One of the last teams named as part of the 64-team field, FGCU will travel to Gainesville where they’ll face the No. 15 nationally seeded Gators of the University of Florida for their first-round matchup on May 12.
“I did have a gut feeling that we would be going to UF because it’s the only school we can drive to,” FGCU coach C.J. Weber said. “But you never know until the draw comes out. As the tournament draw kept getting announced with more and more teams, it was pretty clear, the only top 16 team left was Florida.”
FGCU earned their way into the tournament by virtue of a marathon, rain-plagued, Atlantic Sun Conference tournament, which saw the Eagles play until 3:15 a.m. in a semifinal win over top-seed North Florida, 4-3, before beating Lipscomb in the conference final.
“We were supposed to play at 5:00 p.m., we didn’t get to the court until 11:30 p.m.,” Andres Alfonzo recalled, the lone senior on the team. “I think that built a lot of toughness on the team, that we can overcome challenges.”
Weber says he thinks the Eagles are playing their best tennis of the season right now, finally at full strength after struggling with injuries for much of the season. The team took a week off after the conference tournament to recover.
“I never give the guys that much time off, but it was such an emotional week for us, not just how physical it was but how emotional it was for us,” Weber said. “The guys needed a week off and me personally, I needed a week off.”
The turning point may have come right before the conference tournament against Memphis. FGCU lost 4-2 in their regular season finale, but it was proof that they could play with anyone.
“Memphis was a really good match for us to measure ourselves, and we proved that we could compete against any team in the nation. We felt very good after Memphis. We felt we could win that match, it didn’t go our way, but next week we had our conference matches and we had some big wins and it gave us confidence.”
This is the second trip for the Eagles into the NCAA Tournament, last playing in 2015 where they were swept by No. 16 national seeded UCLA in the first round. That team was led by phenom Jordi Vives.
But against Florida, the Eagles might have a secret weapon on their side in redshirt junior Oliver Landert. Landert, a Naples native, played for Florida as a freshman, and still knows several of the Gators players.
“We were very good friends on the team,” Landert said. “I still remember them, how they play and everything.”
Weber said they may lean on him for information going into the all-Sunshine State showdown.
“He has a great mind for the game, so we’ll definitely be talking about that,” Weber said. “We coaches, we know how to be resourceful to find out about teams. That will be a good advantage for us.”
Should they win, they’ll face the winner of Georgia Tech and Minnesota on May 13.
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