STANFORD, Calif. – Florida won another hard-fought match in the NCAA Championship and defeated Miami (Fla.) 4-1 in the quarterfinals on Sunday at Taube Tennis Stadium.
The second-seeded Gators (29-1) won the doubles point and then received singles victories from Olivia Janowicz , Allie Will and Alex Cercone to advance to the semifinals, where they face sixth-seeded UCLA (22-5).
This marks the program’s 21st trip to the NCAA Semifinals in the last 25 years. Florida has reached the championship match 10 times.
“It was tough, just like the NCAA Round of 16 match (UF defeated Clemson 4-1 in a tight contest),” UF head coach Roland Thornqvist said. “We played well in doubles today and had somewhat of a slow start in singles. This Miami team has really improved since the last time we saw them in February. Their freshmen have gotten a lot better. We have to give credit to our players again. They really find a way and in this tournament it’s not necessarily always about who’s playing the best, sometimes it’s about who competes the best. I thought our players were outstanding again in that department.
“Getting to the semifinals is a great achievement, but we’re going to treat this like any other match. We’ve done a good job of that all year long,” Thornqivst continued.
With Florida holding a 3-1 lead in the team scoring, the outcome was still very much in doubt. Lauren Embree lost the first set of her match and went down 3-0 to start the second. Cercone and Joanna Mather lost their respective first sets and rallied to force a third, but both were down a break midway in the final frame.
On court five, Cercone trailed 5-3 in the third set before staging her comeback against Danielle Mills. The Gator rookie held serve and then broke at love to even the set at 5-all, before holding for a 6-5 lead. She earned one final break and was mobbed by several of her teammates immediately after the final point. Her 2-6, 6-1, 7-5 victory clinched the dual match win for the Gators, who won for the 19th consecutive time.
Mather actually held a match point during Cercone’s final game, but Kayla Rizzolo fought off the break point and the game went to deuce, where it was abandoned with Mather holding a 3-6, 6-3, 5-4 lead.
Janowicz was the first to post a singles victory in the quarterfinal bout, as she saw her first singles action at the championship and came through with a 6-4, 6-2 victory against Melissa Bolivar to win her 18th consecutive match and give Florida a 2-0 lead.
Her match was on-serve through the first nine games, before the Gator rookie got the first break of the outing and claimed the opening set. She then jumped out to a 3-0 lead in the second en route to the victory.
The seventh-seeded Hurricanes (21-7) trimmed their deficit to 2-1 with a win on court three, but Will punched in her 14th consecutive singles win as she provided an impressive 6-2, 6-1 victory against sixth-ranked Bianca Eichkorn and gave Florida a 3-1 lead. Sunday’s win was Will’s 80th career singles victory, as she improved to 80-8 all-time, including a 49-2 dual match record, with a 23-1 mark this season.
The Gators got the match started with solid doubles play, as Embree and Sofie Oyen defeated Gabriela Mejia and Melissa Bolivar, 8-4, and improved to 7-0 as a tandem.
Florida then turned to its number three duo of Caroline Hitimana and Mather, who entered the match with a 15-2 record together, including a 6-1 record this year, but had not played since November 6 at the Gator Fall Classic.
The pair didn’t show any signs of rust against Brittany Dubins and Danielle Mills, as the Gators earned breaks in the fourth and eighth games and took a 7-2 lead en route to the 8-5 doubles-point clinching victory. The win was Mather’s 150th career combined singles and doubles victory, with 80 coming on the doubles court.