Knights Welcome Florida and Georgia Southern for Season Opening Weekend

Orlando – The UCF men's tennis team is set for its final season in the American Athletic Conference before making the much-anticipated transition into the Big 12. Now, two years off the program's first AAC title, head coach John Roddick along with first-year assistant Gary Needelman will look to leave the conference on top. Joining a group of experienced upperclassmen is a talented crop of newcomers, seven in total, that will look to establish a winning culture heading into a new era in the team's history. Here's a preview of this weekend's double-header and an overall look at the upcoming season:

Match One: Florida / Saturday, 5 p.m.
There won't be an easing in for this young squad as the Knights face the 17th ranked team in the nation and in-state rivals, Florida, to get the 2023 season underway. The Gators fell to No. 8 Texas, whom the Knights will face on March 18, 5-2, in their opening match last Sunday. After trailing 3-0, and losing the doubles point, Florida couldn't find their way back into the match. They too are a young team, with three freshmen in the starting six to start the season and five in total on the roster, the most since 2008. 

UCF has faced the Gators in every campaign since 2018, with not one match occurring with Florida ranked lower than ninth in the nation. In the five years, the Knights have consistently given the 2021 National Champions tough matches. On Saturday, the Black and Gold will look to earn a top-20 win against their SEC counterparts to start the new campaign. 

Match Two: Georgia Southern / Sunday, 2 p.m.
Following the season-opener versus Florida, the Knights will welcome Georgia Southern to Orlando for the first time since they swept the Eagles, 7-0, in 2014. It will be the first matchup between the programs since UCF beat them 5-2 a year later in Statesboro, Georgia. Unlike Saturday's opponent, the Knights have yet to lose to Georgia Southern in six total meetings, with wins spanning from 2007 to 2015. In Orlando, the Black and Gold have defeated the Eagles in four matches, having only dropped two points to the Knight's 26.

Georgia Southern will make a stop in St. Augustine for its season opener against Flagler on Friday. Last season, the Eagles went 7-11 in dual matches, falling to South Alabama in the first round of the Sun Belt Championships 3-4. The Eagles' 13-man roster includes two seniors along with eight underclassmen, a stiff test for the Knights in their second match on the jump.


Seniors Bogdan Pavel and Lleyton Cronje will provide a pillar for the roster to be built around. The duo left the fall season ranked 28th in the nation in doubles, a solid position heading into the dual season. Pavel has been a consistent feature in the squads' doubles lineups, as the Romanian native, along with former Knight Trey Hilderbrand, were ranked third in the nation in doubles back in 2019, then fifth in 2021. Since arriving in Orlando in 2018, Pavel is 63-40 in both tournament and dual tournament matches, just one off the program record in doubles wins held by Gabriel Decamps (2018-21) of 64.

With one season under his belt after transferring from VCU in 2021, Cronje has an exciting season ahead of him. In the fall season, the South African native went 7-1 overall, sweeping his doubles matches with Pavel along with a 3-1 singles record. 


The eleven-man roster is made up of a wide variety of nationalities, with five continents being represented. The two American-born players are made up of redshirt sophomore Quinn Snyder, who too will look to find his stride in his third season with the Knights after being the lone freshman on the conference-winning team two years ago. Snyder will be joined by Miami Shores native Luca Hotze who had an impressive fall season with the squad.

Two Frenchman enter the new season with UCF, with Paul Colin and Liam Branger both looking to break into the rotation. Emilio Sanchez of Barcelone, Spain comes to Orlando as a graduate of the Emilio Sanchez tennis academy, run by his father of the same name and former world doubles No. 1.With Pavel, born in Pitesti, Romania, the Knights have a talented group out of Europe. The aforementioned Cronje is joined by two exciting Moroccans Yassine Dlimi and Mehdi Benchakroun. Dlimi will feature for the Black and Gold for the first time this spring while Benchakroun went 5-1 in singles and 3-2 in doubles while paired up with Pavel in the fall. Uruguayan Francisco Llanes will be the first South American on the team since Juan Pablo Grassi Mazzuchi of neighboring Argentina in 2021. Cooper White will be the lone true sophomore on the team. From Melbourne, Australia, White split time with Hilderbrand and Cronje in doubles during his freshman season.
The 2023 dual match schedule is yet another challenging slate. The Knights will face multiple ranked opponents, with a home and away fixture with the number two ranked team in the nation, Ohio State. The season gets started with an in-state matchup versus no. 17 Florida on Saturday, followed by a visit from Georgia Southern for some Sunday matinee. 

The Black and Gold will face two future Big 12 opponents in March, with a trip to Stillwater to face Oklahoma state on March 10 preceding the squads first conference matchup at SMU. Their meeting with seventh ranked Texas will be the second of a four-game homestead spanning from the Knights second meeting with Ohio State on March 15, ending with the squads first home conference match versus Wichita State on March 24.