Josie Kuhlman

Florida women’s tennis player Josie Kuhlman earned All-SEC First Team honors last season on the way to UF winning its seventh national championship in program history.

Alligator File Photo

The Florida women’s tennis team ended 2017 as NCAA champions and the No. 1 ranked team in the country. But in 2018, nothing is guaranteed.

UF lost several of its top players this offseason, including seniors Belinda Woolcock and Kourtney Keegan, as well as freshman Ingrid Neel. Neel, who won the clinching singles match in Florida’s 4-1 national championship victory over Stanford on May 23, decided to forgo the rest of her collegiate career and turn pro.

Despite the departures of key contributors, the team has high hopes for freshmen Victoria Emma and Katie Kubicz. Emma’s resume includes competing in the U.S. Open Junior Championships in 2015 and 2016 and winning the Florida Player of the Year award in 2015, while Kubicz was ranked seventh in the 18-and-under division in Poland and placed second in the doubles portion of the Polish Winter Championships in 2016.

Meanwhile, Florida’s returning cast of players — all of whom are seniors — are aiming to bring the Gators back to the NCAA title match for the second year in a row. Josie Kuhlman, an All-American in 2015, is looking to improve on last year’s performance after earning a nod to the All-SEC First Team.

Brooke Austin returns to the fold after a 2017 campaign that didn’t live up to expectations. Austin earned SEC Player of the Year and was the NCAA doubles national champion with Keegan as a sophomore, but ended last spring excluded from the ITA top 125 singles rankings.

The No. 3 Gators will kick off the spring season at the Freeman Memorial Women’s Tennis Championships beginning today at the Fertitta Tennis Complex on UNLV’s campus.

The three-day event will feature three other top-10 teams in No. 1 Stanford, No. 5 North Carolina and No. 6 Pepperdine. The tournament is set to begin this morning at 10.

Follow River Wells on Twitter @riverhwells and contact him at [email protected].

River Wells is a sports writer for the Alligator and covers the University of Florida women’s tennis team. He has previously covered UF swimming and diving. He has worked at the paper since Fall 2017.