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Storied rivalries return to USTA National Campus for 2024 College MatchDay slate

Victoria Chiesa | February 01, 2024


Two of the most storied rivalries in college sports will once again take center stage for College MatchDay in 2024 as the University of Florida, Florida State University, the United States Military Academy and the U.S. Air Force Academy will travel to Orlando this month for the USTA National Campus' seventh installment of the premier showcase for NCAA tennis.

 

Florida and Florida State kick off the action this weekend on Feb. 3, and Army vs. Air Force will follow in two weeks on Feb. 17. Both matches will begin at 5 p.m. and will be broadcast via Cracked Racquets on YouTube.

 

On the men's side, the Gators and Seminoles are going head-to-head in Orlando for the seventh time, in the 85th chapter of their all-time rivalry. There have, historically, been no secrets between the two teams, but this year, one side has plenty of fresh faces. First-year head coach Adam Steinberg, who succeeded Bryan Shelton as Florida's head coach in June, six freshmen, and one graduate transfer are all experiencing the unique atmosphere that comes with UF vs. USF at the Campus for the first time. 

 

The Gator men come into the match at 3-2, and are looking to snap a two-match skid, having lost to Wake Forest and North Carolina last weekend in Chapel HIll. The Seminoles, meanwhile, enter action at 4-2 and as the 23rd-ranked team in Division I.

"College MatchDay is always one of the best events of the season, and it's something I've been looking forward to since I accepted the job here at Florida," he said. "The USTA National Campus is one of the best venues in our sport, I've been there a few times with teams in the past, and I can't wait to experience the matchup with Florida State for the first time.

 

"This event means so much to the team and to our program, and I know the atmosphere is going to be great and something a lot of our guys have never experienced, so we're all very excited to get there and compete."

 

Meanwhile, Florida's women's head coach, Roland Thornqvist, said competing at the event is "always a thrill," especially as it pertains to the Gators' in-state rivals. Beginning his 23rd year at the helm, Thornqvist has his team off to a 3-0 start in dual-match action. Junior Emily de Oliveira leads three Gators in the ITA's Division I individual national rankings.

Photo by Manuela Davies/USTA.

Coach Jennifer Hyde's Seminoles, at 2-1 on the young season, will look to topple the eighth-ranked team in the country for just the fifth time in program history in their 16th meeting.

 

"This is a showcase premier college tennis event that's really unlike any other that college tennis offers," Hyde said. "You come to Florida State and to the major programs in the U.S. for moments like these, to perform in front of 1,500-2,000 people."

 

"The environment is electric and I'm so grateful that our squad has an opportunity to take part in the College MatchDay atmosphere. ... I'm so glad that we're able to be continue to be a part of this great experience for the community for the players, and for tennis in general."

 

While Florida and Florida State's footprints have been on College MatchDay since it arrived permanently at the USTA National Campus in 2017 (it began four years prior at campus sites), Army and Air Force are squaring off at the venue for the third time. In 2022, the schools split the men's and women's matches, and in 2019, Air Force swept both contests.

Photo by Manuela Davies/USTA.

The on-court action is always thrilling—two of the four matches in the books were decided by 4-3 final scores—the off-court atmosphere is just as special. It's one that Army women's coach Paul Peck has dubbed the "most memorable" in his 29-year career at the school, and one that Air Force's first-year women's coach, Taylor Hollander, is "thrilled" to experience for the first time.

 

"As I start my first year at the Air Force Academy, I'm excited to attend such a prestigious event that I've heard so much about," she said.

 

This is the fourth year that the Orlando event is featuring two of the U.S.'s service academies, and the event hosts a corresponding veterans' tennis clinic to go along with the perennial kids' clinics, alumni mixers, and other community events that complete the festival-like atmosphere at every College MatchDay.

"The Army-Air Force match played at the USTA National Campus means a number of things for both the men’s and women’s programs because it gives our players an opportunity to play against another service academy at one of the premier facilities in the United States," said second-year Army men's head coach Randy Rowley, who's been with the program for 15 years.

 

"The men and women are competing next to each other allowing fans, parents and alumni the rare opportunity to support both programs at the same time. The alumni match gives our 'Old Grads' a chance to come out and play with the Air Force alumni, creating a fun bond and a feeling of reaching back in time to play one more 'Star Match' that these cadets cherished so much in their past tennis careers.

 

"For me personally, it gives people around the country to see the passion, energy, respect and excitement these cadets have playing another service academy. It is a rivalry based on respect for each other, respect for the players, the coaches and all those great men and women who have gone before us and for those who will continue go on to service this great country. Presidents' weekend is the weekend we always look forward to each year."

 

"I know both teams have this day highlighted on the schedule," Air Force's first-year men's head coach Evan Urbina, who was an assistant for nine previous years, added. "There’s never a true favorite; anything can happen, and we will do everything we can to be prepared for the moment."

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