Florida out to make net gains in NCAA tourney

    FILE — Gators women's tennis coach Roland Thornqvist coaches his players during a match. [Cyndi Chambers/Corresponde­nt]

    By Jim Harvin

    Tennis anyone?

    There will be plenty available for the next three days, as the Florida women’s and men’s teams host the first two rounds of NCAA Tournament play at Linder Stadium at the Ring Tennis Complex.

    “Obviously we’ve proved that we deserve to be at home,” women’s coach Roland Thornqvist said. “At one point we were 3-4 and were ranked No. 49 in the country, and it took those losses for us to recalibrate and start playing to win rather than defending anything. Once we started doing that and going for it, we played with more courage and less anxiety, and I think our play steadily improved from mid-February on.”

    Men’s coach Bryan Shelton is equally optimistic.

    “I always talk about that home-court advantage,” Shelton said. “When you go to a new site, you’ve got to deal with a different surface and you’ve got to deal with a crowd that’s probably not cheering for you. To be at home and sleep in our own beds and play on our courts where we’re comfortable, I feel like we really have the chance to create some momentum.”

    Action begins on the women’s side today at 11 a.m. when Florida State (17-12) squares off against North Florida (17-7) followed by UF (18-8) going against Youngstown State (16-10) at 2 p.m.

    Three matches are on tap Saturday, capped by the women’s second-round match between today’s winners at 4 p.m.

    Prior to that, Miami (14-12) and North Florida (13-9) start men’s action off at 10 a.m., followed by UF (16-9) going against South Carolina State (10-6) at 1 p.m.

    The weekend closes with the two men’s winners meeting Sunday at 1 p.m.

    NCAA tennis tournament

    At UF’s Linder Stadium at the Ring Tennis Complex.

    Today | Women’s First Round

    11 a.m. Florida State (17-12) vs. North Florida (17-7)

    2 p.m. Florida (18-8) vs. Youngstown State (16-10)

    Saturday | Men’s First Round

    10 a.m. Miami (14-12) vs. North Florida (13-9)

    1 p.m. Florida (16-9) vs. South Carolina State (10-6)

    Saturday | Women’s Second Round

    4 p.m. Friday’s First Round winners

    Sunday | Men’s Second Round

    1 p.m. Saturday’s First Round winners

    The Florida women have hosted first- and second-round action every year since the NCAA Women’s Championships expanded to 64 teams in 1999.

    The Gators have earned a berth into 36 of 37 NCAA events, missing out only in 1986 and winning seven NCAA titles – 1992, 1996, 1998, 2003, 2011, 2012 and 2017.

    The last four have come under Thornqvist.

    “I feel like we’ve had two great weeks off,” senior Anna Danilina said. “We just took care of our academics and now we can concentrate on tennis. We have been preparing super-hard and I think we’re ready to play some matches. It’s going to be really exciting to start playing again Friday.”

    Teammate and fellow senior Josie Kulhman agreed.

    “We’re taking it one match at a time and focusing on our first match Friday, then we’ll go from there,” Kuhlman said. “Playing at home is awesome. Our fans are really going to help us out and the heat is going to help us out. It’s going to be a lot of fun.”

    Shelton coached the Georgia Tech women’s team for 13 years and won the NCAA title in 2007. He has led the UF men to the Round of 16 or beyond in three of the last four seasons, reaching the NCAA quarterfinals in 2016.

    “It always feels good to be at home,” junior McClain Kessler said. “We like these courts and know these courts better than anyone, and we can beat anyone in the country on these courts. It’s a different feeling and so good to have the fans behind us at all times.”