Monday, 13 February 2017 18:04

Florida Brings The Sunshine Indoors As Ingrid Neel Clinches NTI Title No. 7

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For the first time in 18 years the Women's National Team Indoor Championship is coming back to Gainesville after the top ranked and No. 1 seed Florida Gators held off second ranked/seed North Carolina 4-2. Florida got off to a great start in doubles by going up early breaks at No. 2 and No. 3 and it would only take 21 minutes for Florida's Josie Kuhlman and Belinda Woolcock to win 6-0 at No. 3. Florida's Ingrid Neel and Anna Danilina jumped out to a 2-0 lead at No. 2 and they'd add one more break to go up 5-2 and then Danilina would hold on the no-ad point to clinch the doubles point with a 6-2 win. The match at No. 1 was abandoned with the score tied at 4-4.

North Carolina turned it around in singles and took four opening sets with Hayley Carter rallying from 4-1 down to take the opening set over Belinda Woolcock 7-6(1). 

Despite only taking two first sets Florida was the first to put up a point in singles with junior Brooke Austin rolling to a 6-1, 6-1 win over North Carolina sophomore Chloe Ouellet-Pizer in a match that took just under 50 minutes. Austin converted six of eight break point opportunities while winning 51 of 74 total points (69%).  

North Carolina freshman Sara Daavettila needed just 58 minutes to defeat Florida junior Anna Danilina 6-1, 6-2. After Danilina held for 1-1 in the first, Daavettila ran off seven straight games to close out the first set 6-1 and take a 2-0 lead in the second. Daavettila would add another break to go up 4-1 in the second and then she'd hold two more times to close it out. Each player had five break point opportunities with Daavettila converting four of those while Danilina converted none. 

It'd be almost 40 minutes before the next final came in but Florida senior Kourtney Keegan definitely finished with a bang at No. 6. Keegan dropped the opening set 6-4 to UNC junior Cassandra Vazquez who was making her first singles appearance of the tournament (first since January 21). Keegan actually trailed 5-1 in that first set but got it back on serve at 5-4 before Vazquez broke from 30/40 to take the set. Keegan dominated the second set winning 24 of 31 points (77%) and only needed 24 minutes to take the set 6-0. The third set was a little closer but not by much as Keegan won 27 of 40 points (68%) and broke Vazquez all four times including the final game of the match to win it 4-6, 6-0, 6-1 in 1 hour and 36 minutes. 

Florida's lead was now 3-1 plus Ingrid Neel had a 4-1 lead in the third set at No. 3, Belinda Woolcock had just earned a split at No. 1, and Josie Kuhlman was serving for the second set at No. 4 up 5-4 so things were looking very promising for the Gators. However in a matter of minutes the pendulum would swing back towards North Carolina because freshman Alexa Graham would break back and close out Kuhlman 6-3, 7-6(1), Hayley Carter would go up a break in the third at No. 1, and sophomore Jessie Aney would get her match back on serve at 3-4 in the third against Ingrid Neel. 

A little backstory on Aney and Neel - both grew up in Rochester, Minnesota, and were best friends throughout their childhood so to have them battling on one of the deciding courts was something special. 

Aney was trying to hold for 4-4 but Neel would break from 30/40 to go ahead 5-3. Neel was now serving for the championship but she'd fall behind 0/30 after a backhand found the net and a looping forehand sailed long. Neel bounced back with a big serve out wide followed by a swinging volley winner from the service line and then she'd even it at 30-all after finishing at the net with an overhead. Neel went up 40/30 when Aney was unable to pick up a low backhand volley and then she closed it out with an overhead winner to take it 6-4, 1-6, 6-3. Neel won a total of two more points in the match (74 to 72) with both breaking serve four times.

It was Florida's seventh National Team Indoor Championship but first since 1999 while North Carolina came up short for the second year in a row.  Below are the final two points of the match courtesy of FloTennis and below that is a recap from the ITA. Also kudos to both FloTennis and the ITA for some excellent coverage this week!



#1 Florida 4, #2 North Carolina 2
Feb 13, 2017 at New Haven, Conn (Cullman-Heyman Tennis Center)
Singles results
1. #5 Hayley Carter (UNC 11.84) vs. #40 Belinda Woolcock (UF 11.65) 7-6 (1), 1-6, 4-0, unfinished
2. #2 Sara Daavettila (UNC 12.02) def. #23 Anna Danilina (UF 11.92) 6-1, 6-2
3. #45 Ingrid Neel (UF 11.91) def. #17 Jessie Aney (UNC 11.58) 6-4, 1-6, 6-3
4. #48 Alexa Graham (UNC 11.39) def. #19 Josie Kuhlman (UF 12.06) 6-3, 7-6 (1)
5. Brooke Austin (UF 11.73) def. Chloe Ouellet-Pizer (UNC 10.42) 6-1, 6-1
6. #30 Kourtney Keegan (UF 11.78) def. Cassandra Vazquez (UNC 10.27) 4-6, 6-0, 6-1
Doubles results
1. Carter/Daavettila (UNC) vs. #18 Austin/Keegan (UF) 4-4, unfinished
2. #22 Neel/Danilina (UF) def. #42 Aney/Vazquez (UNC) 6-2
3. #17 Kuhlman/Woolcock (UF) def. James-Baker/Ouellet-Pizer (UNC) 6-0
Match Notes
Florida 7-0; National ranking #1
North Carolina 8-1; National ranking #2
Order of Finish: Doubles (3,2); Singles (5,2,6,4,3)
ITA National Team Indoor Championship Finals

Post-Match Quotes from Florida head coach Roland Thornqvist via FloTennis:
"This has been a long-time coming. We've played well at the Indoors before, but this is a special group. I had a feeling that we had a chance just by the way we hit the ball. You never know until the very, very end. This North Carolina team is a team used to winning. They've won here a couple times before so you could tell it was going to be hard to go all the way through and get it done. Credit to our players. They were resilient and our freshman at the end was just remarkable."

On transitioning from playing outdoors to indoors:
"Just by playing and competing in this great environment against these great teams. Drawing Michigan first, I knew, was going to be really difficult and it proved to be. We lost the doubles point. We also found our legs a little bit and believed we could play in here because they really come at you. We played better against Texas Tech and then last night (vs. Georgia) so today was a culmination of each day getting better and better."

On winning his first National Team Indoor title:
"This means a lot. It means a lot to our players, you can tell that. Any time you can bring home a trophy of this kind it means a lot. A lot of hard work goes into it. It's going to be interesting now because we have another huge weekend next weekend at home against the defending national champion and the national runner-up from last year. There isn't much time for us to bask in our glory. We'll take a couple days off but we have to get right back on the drawing board."

Postmatch with UF Associate Head Coach Dave Balogh via FloTennis:
"It's a great feeling, I'm just so happy for (the players). They've been so close so many times. These guys to the right things in a match, in practice, on the court, off the court. I wanted it for them so badly and I'm glad they got it."

On freshman Ingrid Neel clinching the match:
"The kid is amazing. We're so blessed to have her. I love her to death and not just on the court. Off the court, she is amazing. She makes everyone in the locker room happy. She makes everyone on the court better. What she did out there – coming in January. Her poise and composure she played with was just spectacular. I was impressed."





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