January 12, 2012
Andy Jackson is hungry to win another championship and have his players rush the tennis court throwing their hands and rackets in the air in pure uncontrolled emotion, just like they did last spring when Florida won the Southeastern Conference title.
The Florida men's tennis coach has the opportunity this spring to lead the Gators back to postseason success and duplicate the raw exhibition of emotion UF showed last spring after defeating Kentucky to win its first SEC crown since 2005.
A historic conference championship gave way to an NCAA tournament performance, in which the Gators fell in the round of 16.
"Honestly, we did not play as well at the NCAA’s as we wanted to," Jackson said. "We felt we were a little too happy going in."
After a season where UF lost six regular season matches by one point, the SEC championship was special, particularly since the Gators were hosting the tournament in front of the fans that stuck with them through the hard times.
"Tennis is one of the sports where even though there is not a lot of people there, they can have a drastic impact on the match," Jackson said. "Being here at Florida with the crowd definitely helped a lot. Would we have won the tournament in another place? I don't think so."
UF enters 2012 with four out of its top six singles players returning. Frenchman Alexandre Lacroix, UF's wins leader, graduated last year.
Another Frenchman has matured this fall and filled the void left by Lacroix. Nassim Slilam's on-court antics have entertained UF fans for three years en route to his 45 career singles victories.
Slilam, who played No. 3 singles last season, has become more of a leader on and off the court, Jackson said.
Joining Slilam is junior Bob van Overbeek and sophomore Spencer Newman, in addition to Frank Carleton, a transfer from Wake Forest.
Jackson recruited Carleton out of high school. The junior will help UF in postseason play with his physical toughness, Jackson said.
"When he first got to college, he was top-20 in the country in the first few months," Jackson said. "There is not any question about his ability. What he has to do is get fitter and be more consistent with his discipline day in and day out."
Carleton is not the only Gator working on fitness. Jackson said the team has bought into the offseason training program, which consisted of gym workouts and individual tennis practice.
The training will help the Gators later in the season, which Jackson described as a "grind."
"They can expect that we are going to be extremely motivated, extremely talented and that we are going to be all in," Jackson said. "There is not a doubt in my mind. When you are going to watch the Florida team play, you are not going to have to worry about that the other team is going to have more invested or willing to pay a higher price."
Jackson will start his 11th year as head coach in the spring. Although Jackson won the SEC championship last season, there is still one title which has eluded the UF program.
Jackson is determined to bring home a national championship to Gainesville and is not afraid to show it.