OXFORD, Miss. - The No. 24 ranked Ole Miss women's tennis team split a doubleheader Sunday, falling to No. 7 Florida in a close match (4-2) and then sweeping Arkansas-Pine Bluff 6-0 later in the afternoon.
The Rebels will enter the final weekend of SEC regular season play at 12-7 overall and 5-6 in the SEC.
With rain looming, Ole Miss and Florida elected to start with singles. Florida won two matches in straight sets at Nos. 2 and 4 to go up a quick 2-0. Tenth-ranked Olivia Janowicz handed Rebel freshman Zalina Khairudinova a 6-2, 6-0 loss and then No. 38 ranked Sofie Oyen snapped Mai El Kamash's eight-match win streak, 6-2, 6-2 on court four.
Junior Julia Jones got the Rebels on the board with an impressive win against No. 23 ranked Alexandra Cercone at No. 3 singles. Jones won a tough first set 7-5 and then shut her out in the second 6-0 for her fifth win in a row and 23rd of the season. She handed Cercone just her second SEC loss of the season.
"Alex is a great player, and the way Julia beat her today was unbelievable," head coach Mark Beyers said. "Alex has won a lot of matches for Florida and in some big moments. Julia was the better player out there today. After a tough first set, Julia was able to roll in the second set. That's impressive, because that's hard to do against a player of that caliber."
Florida went ahead 3-1 when 53rd-ranked Kourtney Keegan defeated Iris Verboven 7-6(1), 6-1 on court six. Erin Stephens kept the Rebels' hopes alive, winning a huge second set tiebreaker to top Belinda Woolcock 6-4, 7-6(5) at No. 5 singles.
If the Rebels were going to have a chance to force doubles play, it would be up to senior Caroline Rohde-Moe to comeback against No. 17 ranked Brianna Morgan. After losing a tough first set 6-4, Rohde-Moe rallied to win a second set tiebreaker 7-6(4) to force a deciding set. The two played two sets in the time it took the remaining five courts to complete their matches, with several long games in each set. Morgan got off to a solid start in the third and held on for 6-3 to clinch the victory.
Even though she didn't get the win in to extend the match, Rohde-Moe was happy with her play overall.
"It was a great opportunity for us against Florida, and we made the best of it," Rohde-Moe said. "We put ourselves in a position where it could have gone either way. I feel like I played one of the better matches I've played all year. It's fun to play my last home match like that. It comes down to a point here or there. She came out playing well in the third set, and I was little late. She was really aggressive in the beginning. I was fighting back and had some opportunities. She played a good match and didn't give me anything. I had to fight for everything."
Head coach Mark Beyers was disappointed with his team's effort on Friday in a 4-2 loss to South Carolina, but he was happy with the Rebels' performance against one of the nation's top teams, year in and year out.
"I was very pleased with the way we played against Florida," Beyers said. "Florida is one of the elite teams in the country. It comes down to a few points to get to the doubles, then you never know. I thought we fought hard, gave a great effort. If we can play at that level then we're going to win a lot more matches here at the end of the season. That's the challenge to the girls."
Beyers also talked about his lone senior's last SEC home match.
"It's never going to be easy when you play Brianna Morgan, who is one of the top players in the country. Caroline played a great match that could have gone either way. In the end she comes up short, but the level of tennis that was being played out there, was fantastic."
The second match of the day against Arkansas-Pine Bluff had to be moved indoors due to rain. The teams started with singles at four, five and six. The Rebels won all six matches without dropping a game.
"It's never easy to play a doubleheader, especially after a tough loss against a very good team, but we came out focused and took care of business," Beyers said. "We just need to keep doing what we're doing. If we play at the level that we did today, I feel confident we are going to be in the match against Texas A&M with a chance to win."
The Rebels will play the Aggies Friday, April 11 at 5 p.m. CT before closing out the regular season at Missouri on Sunday, April 13.
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