Two-time defending NCAA Division I Women’s Tennis champion Florida plays host to Marist in the first round of the NCAA Championships at the Ring Tennis Complex on Saturday beginning at 1 p.mThe Gators (22-2) won the 2013 Southeastern Conference Tournament and earned the league’s automatic berth into the NCAA Championships, as well as the No. 1 overall seed in the 64-team event.
“We love playing at home. Obviously, our record shows that,” UF head coach Roland Thornqvist said. “It looks like the temperature should be hot and we like it when you have to work points and that tends to work in our favor. We generally have a good crowd and I’m hoping that we can have a large group of fans for the entire weekend.”
Florida is 12-0 at home this season and has extended its overall program-record home winning streak of 119, which includes 19 wins in postseason play (SEC and NCAA Tournament). The last time the Gators fell at home was on May 15, 2004, in the second round of the NCAA Tournament to Miami (Fla.), 4-3. That also was the last time Florida was the No. 1 seed.
Marist College (11-7) is the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference (MAAC) champion. The Red Foxes, who have won six consecutive matches, are making their fourth overall NCAA Championships appearance and their first since 2011, with the other postseason berths coming in 2007 and 2008. Marist has never advanced to the second round.
“Marist is coming off a conference championship, just like we are, so they’re entering the NCAA Championships with some confidence,” said Thornqvist, who enters the match with 298 wins with the Gators, as well as 373 in his 17-year head coaching career.
Florida and Marist will be squaring off for the first time in program history. In fact, Saturday will be just the third time in the school’s all-time athletic history that the two programs will compete. The Gator women’s lacrosse team downed Marist, 22-3 on March 17, 2010, and the Gator men’s tennis team earned a 4-0 triumph against the Red Foxes in the first round of the 2009 NCAA Championships.
The other NCAA First Round match played in Gainesville features No. 23-ranked Georgia Tech (14-9), which earned an at-large berth after finishing fifth in the Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC), versus No. 35-ranked and Ivy League automatic qualifier Yale (17-3) on Saturday at 10 a.m.
The winning teams from those first-round matches meet in the second round on Sunday, May 11 at 1 p.m.
This is the 12th time since 1987 that the Gators are the No. 1 seed in the NCAA Championships. Florida is 34-9 when playing as the No. 1 seed, winning NCAA titles in 1992 and 1996, while finishing as runner-up in 1988, 1995, 1997, 1999 and 2002.
“Our players are used to playing with a bullseye on their back,” Thornqvist shared. “In general, the players who come here from the juniors are used to it and they kind of like it. It’s like a badge of honor to be the favorite. I like to think that we can use playing at home as an advantage rather than a negative pressure.”
Florida enters Saturday’s match riding a 15-match win streak. The Gators have uncharacteristically dropped the doubles point nine times this year, but have relied on the strength of their singles play.
“I think we’ve been playing really, really well,” Thornqvist said. “Our singles play has been phenomenal all year. We’re fit and strong and look better in the corners than any other year that I can remember.”
Lauren Embree and Caroline Hitimana are the lone seniors on the 2012-13 Gator squad and will be playing their final home matches during the NCAA’s opening weekend.
If the seedings hold true and the Gators win the NCAA First & Second rounds, Embree and Hitimana would cap their illustrious careers with a 55-0 home record and would join an elite group of four-year players who complete their collegiate tenure having never lost a home dual match!
The Florida senior classes of 1998, 2008, 2009, 2010 & 2012 never endured a home loss - which includes any postseason matches held at the Ring Tennis Complex. There weren’t any seniors on the 2011 team, but if there had been they also would have finished their four-year careers with an unblemished home slate.