May 20, 2010

Courtesy of University of Florida Athletics

The third-seeded University of Florida women's tennis team gutted out a tight 4-1 victory against Ole Miss on Thursday and advanced to the quarterfinals of the NCAA Championships held at the Dan Magill Tennis Complex.

The Gators won their 20th consecutive match and reached the NCAA Quarterfinals for the 24th time in the 29-year history of the event, but the victory didn't come as easily as the score might seem.

"We played a very, very good Ole Miss. We played them a month and half ago and we knew we would see a very different Ole Miss team than we did back in Gainesville," UF head coach Roland Thornqvist said. "I thought Ole Miss played exceptionally well. They pushed us to the brink and I was really happy to see that we were able to come out on top."

Florida won a tough doubles point, as the No. 1 team of Marrit Boonstra (The Netherlands) and Allie Will (Boca Raton, Fla.) overcame an early break to defeat Ole Miss' 12th-ranked pair of Kristi Boxx and Karen Nijssen, 8-6. Florida (27-2) began by winning the doubles match on court No. 3, before the Lady Rebels (17-6) earned the decision at No. 2, setting the stage for the showcase court to provide the clincher.

"I was happy to see that we performed under pressure," Thornqvist said. "We lost at No. 2 doubles which is very rare. We haven't done that a lot this year. That shook us up a little, but the No. 1 court came though under pressure and was able to clinch it for us. No. 3 played well right from the start."

The Gators jumped out quickly on several of the singles courts and appeared well on their way to a convincing team win. Ole Miss refused to fold and fought until the final point, making the Gator faithful in the stands a bit uncomfortable toward the end of the dual match until freshman Lauren Embree (Marco Island, Fla.) provided the clinching heroics with a 6-4, 7-6 (4) victory over Kristi Boxx at the No. 1 position in just under two hours.

When Embree put the finishing touches on Florida's victory, the Gators were trailing on the two courts still in action after both of them held seemingly comfortable leads.

Boonstra, who was named the SEC Tournament MVP a few weeks ago on these same courts, picked up right where she left off during Florida's last visit to the Magill Tennis Complex. The Gator senior gave the Gators a 2-0 lead when she defeated Connor Vogel, 6-1, 6-2, in one hour on the No. 3 court. Boonstra never lost her serve en route to winning her 16th consecutive singles match and improving to 25-3 this season.

Will was next off the court, as she downed Karen Nijssen, 6-1, 6-2, at the No. 2 spot three moments later, providing Florida with what appear to be a comfortable 3-0 lead just 63 minutes into singles action. The victory was the 25th consecutive singles win for the Gator rookie, whose streak is tied for the fifth-longest in program history. Will also improved to a team-leading 45-3, tied for the seventh most in a season in Gator history.

Freshman Carolina Hitimana (Waterloo, Belgium) won a tough first set against Gabby Rangel at the No. 6 spot, earning a break in the 11th game and serving out for the first frame. She then jumped out to a 5-1 lead in the second, before Rangel began an incredible rally, winning the final six games to take the second set and force a third, where she held to begin when play was abandoned.

Sophomore Joanna Mather (Duluth, Ga.) dropped her first set 6-2 against Laura van de Stroet, but found her stroke in and won the second, 6-3, to force a deciding third. Mather jumped out to a 4-0 lead, before van de Stroet ripped off winner after winner to capture the next five games for a 5-4 lead, bringing the final set back on-serve when the match was halted.

Senior Anastasia Revzina (Moscow, Russia) couldn't fend off Abby Guthrie, who was able to give Ole Miss its lone singles victory of the day, 6-4, 6-4.

Embree and Boxx exchanged breaks midway through the first set, which remained on-serve until the Gator rookie was able to break in the 10th game to take the opening frame, 6-4. Embree then jumped out to a 3-0 lead before Boxx managed a break in the fifth game and held to get things back on-serve. The match remained that way and needed a tiebreaker to determine the second set. Embree held and took a mini-break for a 2-0 lead en route to a 4-1 advantage. Boxx held her next two serves and took one of two from Embree to tighten things at 5-4, with Boxx heading to the baseline for the next two serves. Embree buckled down and won the last two points to win the match 6-4, 7-6 (4) and help the Gators win their 20th consecutive dual match for the first time since a 53-match winning streak that began on Feb. 11, 1998 and ended on April 25, 1999, in the SEC Tournament final by Ole Miss.

"This is the first time a pressure match has come down to Lauren's court," Thornqvist said. "Even though there were other matches still being played, in the back of her mind I think she thought that she would be the one to clinch. I was really happy to see her performance at the end. She had a chance to win it before the tiebreak, but Kristi Boxx played a good point on our match-point. It came down to playing good tennis under pressure and Lauren hit a big forehand winner to win it for us."

Florida will play Miami (FL) in the NCAA Quarterfinal round on Saturday at 1 p.m. The No. 11-seeded Hurricanes (20-5) upset No. 6-seeded Northwestern, 4-1, in their round of 16 match.

The Gators and Hurricanes have not played each other since Feb. 18, 2007, when Florida earned the thrilling 4-3 victory in Gainesville. Florida leads the all-time series against Miami, 33-21, with the teams tied 2-2 in NCAA meetings. The last NCAA match-up came in the 2004 NCAA second round, when the Hurricanes stunned the Gators, 4-3, in Gainesville.

"I told our team after the match in the locker room that you can't come to this even and not expect to be pushed. If you're going to be a champion, you're going to have to get through tight spots and play your best when nerves come into play," Thornqvist said. "Sometimes it's things other than serves, forehands and backhands and will decide a match. Today, I think that we showed that not only are we a good tennis team and we're young with a lot of freshmen, but we also showed a lot of grit and that's what it's going to take to advance."

NCAA Women's Tennis Championships Round of 16
Dan Magill Tennis Complex
Athens, Ga.
Thursday, May 20, 2010

Final Score: Florida 4, Ole Miss 1

1-#5 Marrit Boonstra/Allie Will, UF d. #12 Kristi Boxx/Karen Nijssen, UM 8-6*
2- Connor Vogel/Gabby Rangel, UM d. #29 Lauren Embree/Joanna Mather, UF 9-7
3-Carolina Hitimana/Anastasia Revzina, UF d. Abby Guthrie/Laura van de Stroet, UM 8-4

1-#9 Lauren Embree, UF d. #44 Kristi Boxx, UM, 6-4, 7-6 (4)*
2-#8 Allie Will, UF d. #115 Karen Nijssen, UM, 6-1, 6-2
3-#65 Marrit Boonstra, UF d. Connor Vogel, UM, 6-1, 6-2
4- Abby Guthrie, UM d. #102 Anastasia Revzina, UF 6-4, 6-4
5- Laura van de Stroet, UM led Joanna Mather, UF6-2, 3-6, 5-4 DNF
6- Gabby Rangel, UM led #106 Caroline Hitimana, UF, 7-6, 5-7, 1-0 DNF

Order of Finish: Doubles- 3, 2, 1*; Singles-3, 2, 4, 1*
Records: Florida 27-2; Ole Miss 17-6
ITA Rankings: Florida 3; Ole Miss 17
NCAA Seed: Florida 3; Ole Miss 17-32