April 10, 2011
By Amanda Pruitt
They ended with their 33rd consecutive team victory on their home courts.
Conkic and Smith clinched a close doubles point at the top of the lineup, and all three seniors held steady in their singles matches to lead the fourth-ranked Vols to a 7-0 shutout over 16th-ranked Florida at Barksdale Stadium.
Sophomore Edward Jones clinched the team win by beating Andrew Butz 6-4, 6-2 on court 6, and Fago provided the exclamation point to the afternoon by rallying for a three-set victory on court 4 to preserve the shutout in front of a season-best crowd of 781 in attendance.
While the shutout on Senior Day makes for a good story, it is more important to note this: with the win, Tennessee still has the opportunity to win back-to-back SEC titles for the first time in program history.
The Vols (19-3, 9-1 SEC) now travel to Georgia on Saturday with a chance to split the SEC regular-season title with the Bulldogs in the conference finale. Seventh-ranked Georgia defeated South Carolina 7-0 on Sunday to improve to 10-0 in SEC play.
Tennessee has now won three in a row since dropping a match to Mississippi State on the road 6-1, which snapped a 17-match SEC winning streak. Smith said the loss was a galvanizing experience that should help the Vols as they enter the final stretch of the season.
"I think that Mississippi State match was a real turnaround point for us," Smith said. "That really help us come together more as a team and work on some of the things we needed to work on. It opened our eyes to a lot of weaknesses that we had, so I think it's going to help us down the road.
"Today was definitely an example of how much work we've done and how when we go from here, we need to play our best."
The doubles point required some late heroics from Conkic and Smith on court 1. After sophomores Rhyne Williams and Tennys Sandgren won 8-4 on court 2 and Fago and Jones lost 8-3 on court 3, everything came down to the top-ranked seniors.
Conkic and Smith trailed Alexandre Lacroix and Sekou Bangoura Jr. 6-5 but broke Bangoura to even the score. With the home crowd backing them, the Vols duo broke Bangoura again to win the match 9-7 to clinch the doubles point and improve to 21-1 this spring.
"The way the crowd was cheering for us in that match, it's something I'm going to remember for the rest of my life," Smith said.
Smith has often mentioned one of his favorite matches was helping Kaden Hensel win his final home match as a freshman in 2008. On Sunday, the Tennessee sophomores helped make the current seniors' last day memorable.
Playing No. 1 this weekend for the first time in nearly a month, Williams kept his composure and produced one of his best performances of the spring against 10th-ranked Lacroix, an opponent he had faced twice during the fall. Lacroix won in three sets at the ITA All-American Championships, and Williams repaid the favor with a straight-set victory on his way to the singles title at the USTA/ITA National Intercollegiate Indoor Championships.
The match was tilted in Williams' favor from the start Sunday. He got breaks early in both sets and was first off the court for the Vols with a decisive 6-2, 6-2 victory over Lacroix.
"Playing against him, you have to stay calm," Williams said. "You know he's going to bring the energy. Staying calm out there is key. It's hot out here and you don't want to waste any energy getting fired up. I tried to stay composed and it really helped me today."
Smith followed with a 6-0, 6-3 victory over Bangoura on court 2 to improve to 8-1 in SEC play this spring, putting the Vols up 3-0. Jones improved to 12-0 in his career in Knoxville to give Tennessee its fourth point of the afternoon.
After the match was clinched, Conkic defeated Billy Federhofer 6-4, 6-2 on court 5, and Sandgren extended his winning streak to 18 matches with a 7-5, 6-3 victory over Nassim Slilam.
Fago was the last on the court against Bob Van Overbeek. After losing the first set 3-6, he rallied to win the next two 6-4, 6-2 to complete the Vols' seventh shutout of the season. It was the first time Florida (13-8, 6-4) had been shut out 7-0 since 2005.
"I was really pleased with the crowd that we had," Fago said. "I wanted to give them my full effort, all I had today because I wanted my career to end the best way. My career has been amazing, and I wanted to end with a win."
The Vols' season-ending match at Georgia begins at 3:30 p.m. on Saturday. A live blog will be available at UTSports.com.
To Note: During the careers of the Vols' three seniors, Tennessee is 53-2 at home in dual matches and has won 33 consecutive ... Senior John-Patrick Smith has won 32 straight matches in Knoxville. He improved to a team-leading 36-10 this season, including 8-1 in SEC play ... Sophomore Tennys Sandgren recorded his first 30-win season. He is 30-4 this year, and with his 10-0 SEC record, he is now 20-0 in his career in regular-season SEC matches ... Smith and senior Boris Conkic are now 21-1 this season, including 8-0 in the SEC.
Tennessee 7, Florida 0
1. #4 Rhyne Williams (UT) def. #10 Alexandre Lacroix (UF) 6-2, 6-2
2. #12 John-Patrick Smith (UT) def. #43 Sekou Bangoura Jr. (UF) 6-0, 6-3
3. #48 Tennys Sandgren (UT) def. #84 Nassim Slilam (UF) 7-5, 6-3
4. #56 Matteo Fago (UT) def. Bob Van Overbeek (UF) 3-6, 6-2, 6-3
5. #121 Boris Conkic (UT) def. Billy Federhofer (UF) 6-4, 6-2
6. Edward Jones (UT) def. Andrew Butz (UF) 6-4, 6-2
1. #1 Boris Conkic/John-Patrick Smith (UT) def. Alexandre Lacroix/Sekou Bangoura Jr. (UF) 9-7
2. #61 Rhyne Williams/Tennys Sandgren (UT) def. Andrew Butz/Bob Van Overbeek (UF) 8-4
3.#80 Billy Federhofer/Nassim Slilam (UF) def. Matteo Fago/Edward Jones (UT) 8-3
Order of finish: Doubles (2,3,1); Singles (1,2,6,5,3,4)