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Olivia Janowicz (photo) and fellow seniors Alexandra Cercone and Sofie Oyen seek another SEC title.

Thursday April 17, 2014Senior Trio Seeks to Add Another Title at SEC Tournament

Olivia Janowicz (photo) and fellow seniors Alexandra Cercone and Sofie Oyen seek another SEC title.

By Michelle Provenzano
GatorZone.com Writing Intern

GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Since the day seniors Alexandra Cercone and Olivia Janowicz came to Florida, the expectation was to win titles.

Much to their satisfaction, both Cercone and Janowicz, along with fellow senior Sofie Oyen, that singular expectation has turned into reality.

Back-to-back NCAA championships in 2011 and 2012, and three consecutive SEC Tournament titles from 2011 to 2013.

Alexandra Cercone

As the seniors head into their final SEC Tournament with the Gators in Columbia, Mo., on Friday, that expectation will be a heavy one to bear.

The fourth-ranked Gators are seeded fourth in the tournament, one of only four times the Gators haven’t been seeded No. 1 or No. 2 in program history.

Although Florida finished in a three-way tie for second in the SEC regular-season standings, the team grabbed the fourth seed based off tiebreak procedures.

“This time we’re not clearly the favorite, but we’re near,” Janowicz said. “We want to prove ourselves and take it all away.”

The last time the Gators were seeded No. 4 in the tournament, the team fell to Georgia in the semifinals back in 2009.

But if this team has proven anything, it’s that seeds and rankings rarely matter.

Regardless of how down and out people may count them on the court, Florida masters two things that make all the difference.

Endurance and the comeback.

“The recipe for winning tournaments — there’s no secret to it — is trying to be as fit as we can be starting from August,” UF coach Roland Thornqvist said. “I feel like this is as fit as we’ve been all year.”

Just looking at Florida’s past three matches, when it came down to playing in third sets, the Gators won on all courts or led before clinching the overall match.

“We’re really motivated,” Janowicz said. “This is a year where it’s more even than previous years.”

And it’s true.

Last year Florida grabbed the SEC regular-season title with a 12-1 record.

More than half of those wins were shutouts.

This year, eight of Florida’s 11 wins are shutouts.

But Florida’s only two conference losses were enough to keep them from the top. Dropping regular-season matches on the road to Alabama and Georgia was a wake-up call to Florida on the strength of other teams in the conference.

“We want to play the teams that we’ve lost to in the regular season, and we want revenge,” Janowicz said. “We’re just trying to go into it and do the best we can.”

Alabama grabbed the top spot in the standings with a 12-1 SEC record.

Georgia tied with Florida and Vanderbilt for second with an 11-2 SEC record, while Texas A&M came in third with a 10-3 conference mark.

“It has been a struggle,” said Cercone (photo, above). “Losing to Georgia and Alabama this year, they’re two teams we’ve never lost to. Just dealing with those losses was hard — just mentally not getting too upset about it.

“It’s good that everyone is getting tough matches before the tournament just so we know we’re ready to play long, three-set matches if we have to.”

Going into Friday’s quarterfinals, Florida will play the winner of today’s Texas A&M-Missouri match.

Both teams Florida shut out in the regular season.

“It’s going to be really interesting to see what teams come out of this,” Thornqvist said. “Whoever emerges, I think, will have a really good chance of winning the national championship.

“There is no other conference tournament that is this tough.”

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