TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (UCFKnights.com) – The No. 23 UCF women’s tennis team is moving on to the sweet 16 in the NCAA tournament for the first time ever after defeating the No. 11 Florida State Seminoles by a score of 4-1. This was also the first time that the Knights had defeated FSU in program history.
"We have a ton of respect for that FSU team and how they compete. They got the best of us in January and I think our team learned a lot about themselves after that match," said head coach Bryan Koniecko, "Since then, they have put their heads down and went to work and it was great to see that pay off today. We can't sit around too long because we have another great team in front of us and if we play our style of tennis we can keep advancing."
It took a while for the match to get started. At the conclusion of UCF's win over Alabama, the schedule said the Knights were slated to play the host No. 11 national seed FSU Seminoles at 5 p.m. However, with potential rain in the area, it was decided the teams would aim to start at 3 p.m. That happened to be exactly when the rain started, delaying the start of the match back to 7 p.m. Because of the inclement weather, the match had to be moved indoors.
Once the match had finally begun, doubles play was heavily in favor of FSU out of the gates. At one point, courts one and three were trialing by a score of 5-1. The Knights ended up coming close on court three, but FSU’s Petra Hule and Andrea Garcia edged Natalia Serrano and Domenika Turkovic by a score of 6-4.
A comeback was brewing on court one, but while that was occurring, court two was clinched by UCF as Rebeka Stolmar and Marie Mattel topped Carla Touly and Ariana Rahmanparast by a count of 6-4. The duo was knotted up most of the way, seeing a tie score at 2-2, 3-3 and 4-4.
That comeback we touched on earlier was one to remember. From down 1-5, No. 26 Valeriya Zeleva and Ksenia Kuznetsova came all the way back, winning six straight games at the top doubles spot against No. 21 Ana Oparenovic and Emmanuelle Salas to seal the doubles point for the Knights with a 7-5 win.
The doubles point gave UCF a point streak of 19 straight. Unfortunately, the point streak was snapped when FSU claimed the first singles point of the match. On court two, No. 89 Salas defeated No. 82 Kuznetsova 6-1, 6-1 to tie the match at 1-1.
That was the only time the Knights would stumble in the match. Finishing close behind court two was court for where Mattel defeated Hule 6-2, 6-4 to give UCF a lead once more.
At the time of Mattel’s win, Nandini Sharma was close to a victory as well. Sharma would top Garcia 6-2, 6-4 to put the Knights in front 3-1. This was Sharma’s fifth win in a row, the longest active streak on the team. The win bumped her to a record of 18-3 this season.
Clinching the match was No. 40 Zeleva on court one, just the third time she has done so all season. She edged No. 31 Touly 6-3, 6-4 for her eighteenth win of the season and her tenth over a ranked opponent.
Going unfinished were courts three and five. Stolmar was locked in a tight third set with Oparenovic but was trailing 3-6, 6-2, 1-2. Serrano was also in the midst of a close match with Rahmanparast on court five but trailed 4-6, 4-5.
The Knights got the revenge they were seeking from an early season letdown against the Seminoles where UCF fell 5-2 in the third match of the season. The win represents the first time that the Knights have ever beaten the Seminoles, previously losing in their ten tries prior.
UCF has experienced a tremendous upswing since the dawn of the Bryan Koniecko era. The Knights got back to the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2002 last season and picked up their first ever tournament victory. The 2018 spring season saw the Knights pick up their fifth twenty win season at the time. This year, the Knights have picked up 24 wins, a program best, and they aren't done yet.
The Knights will head to California for their first ever meeting with Pepperdine, who is the No. 6 national seed in the tournament. The two will play Friday in Malibu, California at 4 p.m. eastern time.
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