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Vols Sweep Florida to Hoist SEC Tournament Title
Boris Conkic


Boris Conkic
LEXINGTON, Ky. -- The Tennessee Volunteers set a new record for SEC Tournament success in the championship match Sunday.

The Vols became the first team in SEC Tournament history to defeat all three opponents in shutout fashion, sweeping Florida 4-0 in the finals at Hilary J. Boone Tennis Complex.

The second-ranked Vols beat LSU 4-0 in the quarterfinals and Mississippi by the same score in the semifinals. Tennessee, which had last won the SEC Tournament in 2002, had not won both the SEC regular season and tournament titles in the same year since 1990.

"The guys were very focused," Tennessee head coach Sam Winterbotham said. "The coaches were more nervous than the players were. We've worked hard to get this far, and we're enjoying this. To go out and win the regular-season championship undefeated and then to come out here and not lose a match as we go through this tournament, it says how much it means to the team."

"They love Tennessee. They love it. They're treated so well, and they want to give something back to Tennessee."

With the win, Tennessee receives an automatic bid into next month's NCAA Championships. John-Patrick Smith was named SEC Tournament MVP after going a perfect 3-0 in singles and 2-0 in doubles, and Conkic was named to the all-tournament team.

The Vols' first meeting with Florida was two weeks ago in Gainesville, and Tennessee won 4-3 by picking up points in doubles and from Rhyne Williams, Tennys Sandgren and Davey Sandgren.

On Sunday, the Vols again won the doubles point, but the singles came from an entirely different crew. Smith, Conkic and Matteo Fago provided wins on courts 1, 2 and 5.

In doubles, Smith and Davey Sandgren came out with a quick 8-3 victory on court 1 against 14th-ranked Antoine Benneteau and Alexandre Lacroix. The win was much easier this time around for Smith and Sandgren. Two weeks ago in Gainesville, they fell behind 3-6 before rallying for an 8-6 victory to get the doubles point.

Boris Conkic and Rhyne Williams clinched the doubles point by winning 8-5 over No. 51 Joey Burkhardt and Sekou Bangoura Jr.

"We know how good Florida is -- they're a great team," Winterbotham said. "We knew we had to be ready to have a chance. Doubles was not pivotal, but it was important. Both teams would have liked to go up 1-0. We held our nerve there, and got out 1-0 up. And that helped the guys relax."

Singles went quickly for the Vols, who won the first set on five of six courts.

Matteo Fago was the first to finish for the Vols, defeating Nassim Slilam 6-3, 6-1 on court 5.

Smith, ranked first nationally, easily beated the only opponent to beat him during the SEC regular season. He gave the Vols a 3-0 lead with a 6-2, 6-1 victory over fifth-ranked Lacroix.

Conkic was up 6-0, 5-1 against Burkhardt at the No. 2 position when the match was suspended and moved indoors because of rain. After a 45-minute weather delay and a warmup period, Conkic lost his serve on a pair of double faults to make it 5-2.

"I just didn't want to think about it. I was telling myself we were starting a new match. It didn't start out well. I made two double faults, but I knew I had a big lead. I just tried to stay calm and play the game that took me to that lead. I managed to do that in the next game."

He regrouped and won the match on a break on Burkhardt's next serve to end the match. He was playing on the court nearest the crowd immediately mobbed by his teammates.

"That was probably the best feeling I've had in my life, having a chance to celebrate it with my teammates," Conkic said. "Everyone ran out on the court. It's hard to describe. It was just amazing"

Conkic improved to 27-10 on the season.

Another plus for the Vols on Sunday was the crowd, which was decidedly pro-Tennessee. The Vols have consistently drawn larger home crowds as the season has progressed. An announced crowd of 1,262 attended the season finale against Georgia in which the Vols captured the outright SEC title.

"Our fans were loud and supporting us today," Conkic said. "It's unusual in college tennis to have 50 or 60 fans drive up just to see you play. It was just amazing"

The Vols will play in the first round of the NCAA Tournament on May 15. The tournament field and playing sites will be announced May 4.

Singles
1. No. 1 John-Patrick Smith (UT) def. No. 5 Alexandre Lacroix (UF) 6-2, 6-1
2. No. 37 Boris Conkic (UT) def. No. 113 Joseph Burkhardt (UF) 6-0, 6-2
3. No. 44 Rhyne Williams (UT) vs. Antoine Benneteau (UF) 6-4, 1-4, dnf
4. Bob Van Overbeek (UF) vs. No. 114 Tennys Van Overbeek (UT) 7-6 (16-14), 1-1, dnf
5. Matteo Fago (UT) def. Nassim Slilam (UF) 6-3, 6-1
6. Sekou Bangoura (UF) vs. Davey Sandgren (UT) 2-6, 6-1, dnf

Doubles
1. No. 4 John-Patrick Smith/Davey Sandgren (UT) def. No. 14 Antoine Benneteau/Alexandre Lacroix (UF) 8-3
2. No. 8 Boris Conkic/Rhyne Williams (UT)def. No. 51 Joseph Burkhardt/Sekou Bangoura (UF) 8-5
3. Bob Van Overbeek/Daniel Cash (UF) def. Matteo Fago/Ed Jones (UT) 8-6

Order of Finish: Doubles: (1,3,2); Singles: (5,1,2).

 

 

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