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.
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.
FLORIDA HEAD COACH ROLAND THORNQVIST • On winning the national championship... • "What can I say? It was one of those moments, you know, this team has worked so hard all year, from when we met in August to now. We've talked about playing on stages like this, what to expect, we trained for, try to visualize what it would be like when you get close to the line, and what characteristics you have to have in order to really get through. I think what you saw today was a combination of training and a lot of effort, and I am really proud of them. I mean, they were crucial on doubles today on the big stage, and then at the end, it looked like we were going to win in an hour and a half into singles, then Stanford, the class that they are, they found a way to get in there and make it super interesting, and our freshman came through again. But, what a team effort! I think we played fantastic tennis, from start to finish as we arrived here. I am really happy with our effort and attitudes, and you know, I am really proud of the way this team represents the University of Florida, it's a first-class bunch."
FLORIDA FRESHMAN INGRID NEEL • On clinching today's match... • "Well if you would have told me that I would clinch the match today, I would have said you were wrong, and then if you told me that when the team was up three love today, I would have said you were crazy. So, I didn't think it would come down to me, but I just kept on fighting. I knew that Stanford could turn it around, but I just couldn't believe I was the one to finish it. It just means so much, and the fact that I did it at the Indoors really helped me today, as well. I could not have done it without an incredible team, and the coaching that I had."
FLORIDA SENIOR KOURTNEY KEEGAN • On winning the national championship... • "It is a great feeling! Our goal from the beginning of the year was to not only get to the finish line, but to cross the finish line. I think we for sure did that. There is no greater feeling than doing it with all of your best friends. I think it is a good way to end the year, and to end my career at Florida."
Tuesday's win ... • was Florida's seventh NCAA title and its first since 2012 which was also played in Athens. • was UF head coach Roland Thornqvist's fourth national championship. • was the first team national championship for the Gator athletics program during the 2016-17 academic year. • marked the 37th national championship in UF athletics history and the first since 2016 when the men's outdoor track & field team captured the title. • Was the first-ever NCAA team title for new UF athletics director Scott Stricklin.