Opening in style: UF easily wins first-round match, to face Florida State

The University of Florida's doubles team of Peggy Porter, left, and Katie Kubicz high five after winning a point during a first round match-up against Youngstown State in the 2018 NCAA Women's Tennis Championship held at the Ring Tennis Complex on the UF campus, in Gainesville, Friday May 11, 2018. The Gators beat the Penguins and will move on to the next round. [Brad McClenny/The Gainesville Sun]

By Jim Harvin

Despite not playing a match for almost three weeks, the eighth-ranked Florida women’s tennis team was more than ready Friday for its NCAA first-round match with Youngstown State at Linder Stadium at the Ring Tennis Complex.

UF (19-8), the No. 9 overall seed, won the doubles point and then proceeded to win three straight singles matches at No. 3, No. 6 and No. 5 for a 4-0 win that moved the Gators into the second round where they will face rival Florida State, a 4-0 winner over North Florida in the day’s opening match.

“We played pretty well for having the three-week long layoff,” UF coach Roland Thornqvist said. “We got off to a really fast start in doubles on courts two and three, and we were able to carry that momentum all the way through.”

Freshman McCartney Kessler got things going in singles by closing out Youngstown State’s Anastasiia Khokhlova 6-1, 6-1, at No. 4, and fellow freshman Katie Kubicz followed with a 6-0, 6-2 win over YSU’s Cassandra Moraleja at No. 6 to put the Gators one point from victory.

Senior Peggy Porter provided the clincher with a 6-1, 6-1 win over Tamara Teufl at No. 5, as host Florida cruised into Saturday’s second-round match with the Seminoles.

“The girl I played was pretty good,” Porter said. “She kind of played similar to me. She liked taking her opponent across court. It was kind of nice to play someone that made it easy for me to stay in my game. I was able to move forward a lot, which is something I don’t usually do. It was a good match.”

Kessler was a bit surprised to be the first one off the court in singles.

“It was just nice to get a good rhythm moving forward,” Kessler said. “She (Khokhlova) was a tall, big girl who hit really hard, so I just had to stay focused on my game.”

Youngstown State finished the season at 16-11.

In the opener, FSU (18-12) won the doubles point before closing out the match with wins at No. 2 singles by Petra Hule, No. 6 from Andrea Garcia and No. 1 from Carly Touly to end the season for UNF (17-8).

After opening the season with home wins over Cal-State Fullerton and Louisiana-Monroe, the Gators fell to the Seminoles, 4-1, back on Feb. 3, dropping the decision for just the second time in 58 matches.

That started a skid in which UF lost four of five matches, dropping from No. 3 in the national rankings to the upper 40s before turning things around.

“I know this whole team has been dying to play FSU since that match,” Porter said. “We have improved so much in every aspect, and I think that it’s nice to come full circle and have the opportunity to play that team again.”

Thornqvist concurred.

“We are a completely different team now than we were in February, and taking those losses early in the season has made us who we are today,” he said. “We’re a much more resilient team now than we were back then, and I think it’s going to be a fantastic tennis match.”

NCAA tennis tournament

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

Today | 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)

Today | Women’s Second Round

4 p.m. Florida State vs. Florida

Sunday | Men’s Second Round

1 p.m. Saturday’s First Round winners