Stanford women’s tennis’ quest to win back-to-back national championships fell just short in Athens, Georgia on Tuesday night, as the Cardinal fell to the No. 1 Florida Gators in the NCAA final.
An eerily familiar script emerged over the past 10 days, as Stanford – seeded seventh despite just two losses entering the postseason – marched through the tournament bracket, slaying No. 4 UNC and No. 2 Ohio State en route to the final. Last year, the 15-seed Cardinal became the lowest seeded team to ever bring home the trophy. The program also won championships in 2013 as a 12-seed and in 2010 as an eight-seed.
This year, the magic ran out a match too early, as the top-seeded Gators stamped out hopes of another Cinderella run with a 4-1 victory.
The title match was delayed three hours by stormy Georgian skies, with the teams taking the court at 8 p.m. Florida quickly made up for lost time, however, racing out to a 1-0 lead with victories on Courts 1 and 3. Stanford had found itself in a similar position in the semifinal against Ohio State and had been able to rally, but this time around Florida’s depth in the singles lineup proved too great to overcome.
The Gators grabbed early leads on five of the six courts, and tallied on another point when Kourtney Keegan crushed Stanford freshman Emma Higuchi 6-0, 6-0 on Court 6. It was a disappointing end to an otherwise phenomenal season for Higuchi, who saw her 22-match winning streak end with the loss.
Less than half an hour later, Belinda Woolcock, the sixth-ranked player in the nation, put the Gators on the brink of the title with a comprehensive straight-set victory over Caroline Doyle on Court 1, giving Florida a 3-0 lead.
Needing wins on all four courts, the Cardinal were delivered a glimmer of hope by sophomore Melissa Lord, who battled to a 6-4, 7-5 victory at the No. 2 position, as the three remaining matches entered third sets. It was too little too late, however, as soon after Lord’s victory the Gators’ Ingrid Neel delivered the knockout punch with a 5-7, 6-3, 6-2 victory over Stanford’s Taylor Davidson.
The match was the 10th meeting between the teams in the NCAA final in the 36 years since the tournament was established, a testament to the dominance of the two programs on the college tennis landscape. Though the Gators earned their seventh title, Stanford remains the winningest team in the sport, with 18 team titles to its name.
Despite the loss, Stanford enjoyed a remarkable season, going undefeated in conference play to claim its 26th Pac-12 title, and defeating five top 10 teams.
The season isn’t over just yet for a few Cardinal players, as Davidson, Doyle and Lord are slated to compete in the NCAA singles championships beginning tomorrow. Davidson is also scheduled to play in the doubles tournament with freshman Emily Arbuthnott.
Contact Neel Ramachandran at neelr ‘at’ stanford.edu.