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Saturday, May 25, 2024

Every morning Whitney Benik wakes up with a nervous feeling in her stomach.

Maybe it's the thought that her four-year career is almost over or that she knows this is a team that could win a national championship.

But whatever it is, that nervous feeling just got a little easier to handle after last weekend as the Gators creamed their competition as they swept Jacksonville on Friday and Auburn on Saturday, both 4-0, to advance to the Round of 16 in the NCAA Tournament.

Coach Roland Thornqvist said his team is "hitting the ball the best we have all year" after they advanced to the quarterfinals for the 21st time in 22 years.

Now, even though Thornqvist said it's the "kiss of death" to talk about winning the big one, the Gators are four matches away from their fifth national championship.

"Each year I always say 'This is the best team I've ever been on. We can win it,'" said Benik, who along with Lolita Frangulyan became just the second UF class to finish their careers undefeated at home. "But this year it's just different. We've got seven players that can play anywhere in the lineup. If it's not this year then I don't know. We should do it. We've just got to go play and get it."

UF (22-2) will take on Vanderbilt next in Tulsa, Okla., on Thursday. The Gators beat up on the Commodores (20-5) 5-2 in the regular season and then again 4-2 in the Southeastern Conference Tournament.

"Can we win it?," Thornqvist said. "I think we can, but we don't specifically say that in the locker room."

UF can certainly win it if the Gators continue their dominance in doubles play. They won the doubles point against the Tigers on Saturday and haven't lost there all season.

Then UF was even more impressive in singles play.

Freshman Marrit Boonstra zipped through her singles match against Jil Hastenrath, winning handily 6-0, 6-1 and then Benik followed Boonstra's win with winning her match easily 6-3, 6-0.

"The Gators play their best when she leads us like this," Thornqvist said of Benik. "She's been a special player. She has always taken a great pride in playing (at home). She was outstanding this weekend."

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Shortly thereafter, Anastasia Revzina closed the match with her 6-1, 6-3 victory.

But the bigger story lies with Benik.

See, here's the issue. She now sits at 97 singles wins, and if she gets to 100, the Gators will be playing for their fifth national championship, and Benik will be one of seven UF players all time to have achieved 100 victories in singles and doubles. If UF is able to win it all and Benik gets a singles victory in every match, she'll finish with 101.

"(Benik) always helps me on the court," Revzina said. "Right now we're playing right next to each other so we're kind helping each other a lot.

"We can talk. Whenever it's tough she'll make me laugh. She's our team leader."

After struggling through doubles play, sophomore Megan Alexander found her groove after some work in singles. Alexander was on the verge of winning her match, but Revzina finished before her as she earned the clinching point. After a team earns the final fourth point, play stops.

Alexander was leading 6-2, 5-1 against Auburn's Melissa Koning.

Csilla Borsanyi, after dominating doubles play with Benik and cruising through her first game in singles play, didn't have as much luck in her second singles game. She led the Tigers' Alex Haney 3-2 after winning the first game 6-1.

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