NCAA tennis: Florida Gators win seventh national crown
ATHENS, Ga. – In a match full of momentum swings, it was Gator freshman Ingrid Neel who shrugged off the pressure and rallied for a three-set victory that clinched Florida's 4-1 win against Stanford and secured the seventh NCAA Championship title in program history.
The Gators began the match at the Dan Magill Tennis Complex winning the doubles point and took early leads in singles action, capturing the first set on three courts.
Kourtney Keegan needed exactly one hour into singles play to give Florida a 2-0 lead as she posted a 6-0, 6-0 win against Emma Higuchi. It was the Gator senior's first double-bagel singles win of the season and her first-ever in NCAA dual match play, as she capped the team portion of her career just 75 miles from her hometown of Roswell, Ga.
Florida seemed firmly in control, as Belinda Woolcock and Brooke Austin were nearing the end of their respective matches – even holding simultaneous match points that would have effectively ended the dual match right then.
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Emily Arbuthnott, however, fought off a pair of match points against Austin and evened the second set at 5-all.
Woolcock did go on to earn a 6-1, 6-3 victory against Caroline Doyle on court one in one hour and 22 minutes and Florida took a 3-0 lead. Woolcock won the final four games of the match, breaking twice including once at love for a 4-3 lead.
Meanwhile, Arbuthnott won the second set against Austin and forced a third.
Anna Danilina had dropped her first set, 6-4, losing her serve in the final game, but roared back to take the second, 6-1.
Josie Kuhlman lost her match on court two to Melissa Lord, 6-4, 7-5, and Stanford was on the board with a ton of momentum in its favor.
Neel had lost her first set to senior Taylor Davidson, a player UF head coach Roland Thornqvist called one of the greatest competitors in college tennis. The first three games of the second set were breaks, as Neel finally ended with the trend by holding for 3-1. She earned another break, before Davidson won the next two games. Neel then held and earned one last break to win the second, 6-3, and force a deciding third.
Neel started strong in the third and jumped out to a 3-0 lead.
At 15-15 in the fourth game, Davidson requested a medical timeout. When play resumed, the Cardinal senior won seven of the next nine points and was serving down 3-2, trying to get the third back on-serve.
Neel, however, fought off two game points and earned the huge break for 4-2 and went to the baseline confidently, as she lost just one point off her serve for a 5-2 lead.
On her second championship point opportunity, Neel watched Davidson's ground stroke sail wide as she completed the 5-7, 6-3, 6-2 clinching victory and was rushed by her teammates.