In his first press conference of the season, coach Roland Thornqvist said he thought this year’s Gators women’s tennis team was the best team he’s had in his 16 years at Florida. On Tuesday night, they lived up to that proclamation by giving the program its seventh national championship.
However, Florida’s season could’ve been marked a success with or without the national championship it won. Going 29-3 overall and 11-2 in the conference, the Gators held the No. 1 ranking all season long, which was no simple task.
Florida played 17 of the current top-25 teams during the regular season, with seven of them being non-conference opponents. Florida also played what Thornqvist described as “an NBA-like schedule” in February, which saw the team travel to California, win the National Indoor Championship in Connecticut and cap the month off by beating both the defending national champion and defending runner-up at home.
The Gators could attribute a large part of their success to doubles play this season.
Florida was nearly unstoppable in the doubles portion of dual matches, clinching the opening point 28 times out of 32 total contests. On top of that, UF held a 27-1 record when winning the opening point.
Florida’s season was also characterized by its experience and leadership. Of the eight players on its roster, seven of them were upperclassmen, including three seniors in Belinda Woolcock, Kourtney Keegan and Spencer Liang.
However, many highlights from the season came from Florida’s lone freshman, Ingrid Neel. Neel shined the brightest during the two biggest moments of the Gators’ season: the National Indoor Championship title match and the National Championship. In both matches, Neel clinched the final point while playing top competitors.
However, the Gators’ season didn’t come without hardships.
After holding the NCAA active record for most consecutive wins at home with 163, Florida let the streak slip to Georgia on March 17 in a 4-1 defeat at the Ring Tennis Complex.
And until the NCAA tournament, Florida was unable to get past Vanderbilt in both the regular season and the SEC tournament. Losing 4-2 in the last match of the regular season and 4-3 in the SEC championship game, Florida was finally able to avenge the Commodores 4-2 in the Final Four.
Returning four of its usual starting six in the singles lineup, the Gators will look to build on the success of this year. However, the dynamic will look very different as Florida is set to bring in three freshman next season, including standout junior circuit player Victoria Emma from Naples.
Despite the changing landscape of the team, Florida will still be able to look to Neel, Brooke Austin and Anna Danilina as its leaders in 2018.
Contact Spencer Thompson at email@example.com and follow him on Twitter @spencemthompson.
Florida celebrates after its 4-2 win against Vanderbilt in the NCAA semifinals on Monday at the Lindsey Hopkins Indoor Courts in Athens, Georgia.