Sunday, May 27, 2018
Colleges

Florida Gators women's tennis team rides winning streak in pursuit of national title

GAINESVILLE — In all honesty, Florida tennis players Joanna Mather and Allie Will had no idea about "the streak" when the season began. Neither did most of their teammates.

But when the Gators defeated Vanderbilt 6-1 on March 9, it marked a milestone 100th consecutive home victory. The celebration? A team photo behind a batch of tennis balls that formed No. 100, and then plans to get ready for the next opponent.

"Honestly we really don't talk about it, said Mather, the team's only senior. "We didn't even know that we had a chance to get a 100-match streak until the day before or something like that. But I think we all do a great job of focusing on what we can control on the court. And we all have such pride in our tennis, we're more worried about the things we can do on the court rather than the outcome of the match."

What they have done on the court is win.

The No. 2 Gators are 17-1 and extended the homecourt win streak to 105, the longest active home win streak in Division I by a women's team in any sport. The last home loss was May 2004 in the second round of the NCAA tournament against Miami, 4-3. Not counting the postseason, UF's regular-season home win streak is 112, dating to a 4-3 loss to Georgia in April 2002.

Which is precisely why nobody is talking.

"We can't talk about it; I think that would be the kiss of death," said coach Roland Thornqvist, who is in his 11th season with the Gators. "We try to play good tennis every time we play. Looking at the number, maybe that would really get in our way, so we try not to talk about it. It's much better for us to spend time and energy on things we can control. How we compete, what we do in practice, and then trying to apply that."

In their quest to repeat as national champions, the Gators have already dominated in the SEC. Florida is 10-0 in conference play (178-1 all time at home in SEC play) and has clinched a share of the SEC regular-season title. A win Saturday against South Carolina would give Florida the title outright, and a third consecutive undefeated conference season.

"This team is really competitive, and every time we go out we're trying to get better," said Will, the top Division I No. 1 singles player. "We're not really thinking about records or anything; we're always focusing on May because we want to be playing our best tennis in May."

Last year, it was the Gators' stunning upset of Stanford that won them the national title. This season, it was a bitter 5-2 loss to Stanford in February that shook the Gators up, then set them on the current path toward another title shot.

"In the beginning of the spring, we played too much thinking of last year," Thornqvist said. "It was to defend; it was to up last year. And our heads were not where they needed to be, frankly. And going into Stanford, we were beating teams but nobody was happy because last year we won that match 6-3, 6-3 and this year we won 6-4, 6-4, so nobody was happy. I think the loss to Stanford sobered us up. We figured out real quick that you have to be tough, you have to be resilient, you have to be fit, you have to play together. And that success this year really has nothing to do with last year. We have to build that entire pyramid from the foundation up just like we did last year. And after Stanford we started to put the right pieces together. And right now our heads are right where they need to be."

Antonya English can be reached at [email protected]

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