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Wednesday May 8, 2013 Cercone has played some of her best tennis for Gators in NCAA Tournament

Updated: 2:38pm, May 8

Alexandra Cercone

Gators junior Alexandra Cercone is a perfect 9-0 in NCAA Tournament dual-match singles play.

GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- The psychology major in Alexandra Cercone gave it a try, but as she attempted to pinpoint a reason for her postseason success the past two seasons, Cercone had no real clear answer.

"I don’t really consciously think that I’m doing anything differently,'' she said. "Maybe it’s all the preparation we go through. Maybe it’s the fact that I know there is a championship on the line and I’m just being that much more focused."

Cercone offered a final shrug, and then, "I’m not really sure what it is but hopefully I can keep it up.”

The two-time defending NCAA champion Gators women's tennis team hopes she does, too.

Florida (22-2) opens its quest to three-peat on Saturday when it hosts Marist at 1 p.m. The winner faces the Georgia Tech-Yale winner on Sunday for a berth in the Sweet 16.

A junior from Seminole, Fla., Cercone is perfect the past two years in NCAA Tournament dual-match singles, going 9-0 with four match-clinching wins. Overall, Cercone is 14-1 (includes 5-1 doubles record) in NCAA dual-match play, the second-best winning percentage (.933) in school history -- 10 or more decisions -- behind Stephanie Nickitas.

Nickitas finished her career with a 14-1 singles record and 2-0 doubles mark for a combined .941 NCAA win percentage.

Cercone is 16-1 in dual-match singles this season, 15 of those victories coming at No. 3 singles, her normal spot in the lineup behind No. 1 Lauren Embree and No. 2 Sofie Oyen. Cercone played primarily No. 5 as a freshman and moved up to No. 4 as a sophomore.

While she played an important role for the Gators the past two seasons, Gators coach Roland Thornqvist has more confidence than ever in Cercone based on how she played as a junior.

"This year she has been really on the entire spring,'' Thornqvist said. "Freshman year and sophomore year, she was a little bit more up and down. This year she has been just rock solid. I mean she has had some monster wins for us."

Perhaps Cercone's biggest win came Feb. 24 when she beat Stanford's Krista Hardebeck in three sets to help the Gators overcome an early deficit to knock off the Cardinal at home. Hardebeck was ranked 10th nationally at the time and had beaten Cercone earlier in the season.

Thornqvist understands the quality of competition will improve the deeper the Gators go in the postseason, but if Cercone can keep doing what she has done, the wins could continue to pile up for her.

"She is steady, she works hard, she has a great attitude and she is an incredible fighter,'' Thornqvist said. "We’re going to need all that in the coming weeks.”

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