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Saturday May 10, 2014Fitting Goodbye: Janowicz, Seniors Lead Gators into Round of 16

Chris Harry
By Chris Harry
GatorZone.com Senior Writer

GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- As she climbed from her seat at the post-match interview table, Olivia Janowicz got hung up.

“I’m caught,” she said. “It’s the boot.”

Janowicz’s right foot was wrapped inside the same bulky, protective piece of foot ware she'd worn in the days leading up to Saturday’s second-round action of the NCAA Women’s Tennis Championships. The Florida senior and 2014 MVP for the Gators sat out Friday’s opening-round shutout of South Carolina State, but Janowicz probably would have played with a broken leg Saturday versus missing her final match at the Ring Tennis Complex.

So perhaps it was fitting that after 22nd-ranked Oklahoma State threw the first punch and quickly routed No. 8 UF in doubles, Janowicz was the first to dust off her Cowgirls counterpart in singles and pave the way to a 4-1 victory that pushed the Gators into the NCAA’s round of 16 for the 10th straight year.

It was even more fitting that Janowicz’s two classmates, Sofie Oyen and Alex Cercone, made straight-set work of their opponents and thus gave themselves an apropos senior sendoff in the last home matches of their magnificent careers.

The ending and final moments on the home court came fast. After Janowicz put down Megan McCray 6-1, 7-6 (1) at No. 2 to tie the match at one point a piece, Oyen followed suit seven minutes later on Court 3 against Kanyapat Narattana 6-0, 6-4. Then freshman Kourtney Keegan defeated Carla Tur Mari 6-2, 6-3 at No. 6 singles mere minutes before Cercone clinched the UF’s 133rd straight home win by beating Karyn Guttormsen 7-5, 6-1 on Court 4.

Four wins closed out in 19-minute span. 

“The three seniors going bang-bang-bang, that was pretty impressive,” Coach Roland Thornqvist said. “And I’m very pleased.”

He was grateful, also. Not just for his out-going seniors and those oodles of victories stacked up from here back to 2011, but also to the crowd that showed up for a long day of tennis at “The Ring,” what with the UF men defeating St. John’s 4-0 in Round 1 of men’s draw earlier in the day.

Thornqvist kept his team on the court to give the fans in the Linder Stadium stands a hand and a “thank you.”

Now, it’s off to Athens, Ga., site of the NCAA finals, where UF (21-5) will face either 10th-ranked Vanderbilt (20-5) or 19th-ranked Georgia Tech (14-9) on Thursday.

With their second-lowest seeding since the NCAA began seeding the tournament bracket in 1987, the Gators knew they had to take a different and more determined path to make a deep run into the field. That’s why Thornqvist was so enthused by what he saw from his team after getting trounced in doubles in just under an hour.

“We knew Oklahoma State was going to be tough, but their play in doubles surpassed what I expected,” he said. “They blitzed us.”

But the Gators didn’t panic. Why would they? It’s not like this NCAA thing is foreign to them; not with a core group of seniors who won back-to-back national championships in their freshmen and sophomore seasons.

“We were in the locker room and I was thinking that my goal was going to be the first one off the court [in singles],” Oyen said. “But my twin right here did that.”

Those words were said with a motion to her right, where Janowicz -- boot and all -- was sitting and smiling.

Nursing a stress reaction -- that’s one step from a stress fracture -- in her right foot, Janowicz was limited in her preparations since the Gators last match, a loss to Texas A&M in the Southeastern Conference Tournament back on April 18. She’d hit and played some practice points, but it had been three and half weeks since playing even three straight games.

Plus, Thornqvist opted to sit her against South Carolina State.

“If you have x-number of bullets, I’m going to choose them wisely,” he said. “Under the circumstances, her performance was sensational.”

Janowicz allowed McCray to rally from three games down and force a second-set tiebreaker, but the Gator took the first six points in the extra set and get UF on the board and her team rolling.

After that, the dominoes fell swiftly and decisively.

“It got a little emotional,” Janowicz said. “I honestly wasn’t thinking during my match that it was my last match [here] -- and thank God. If I had, maybe I would’ve taken longer just worrying about it. But we haven’t lost a match here in a long time.”

You could say that.

Try May 15, 2004.

The Gators may not have won the SEC this year and their early exit from the conference tournament was not something they’re accustomed to.

But another senior class has come and gone without ever experiencing a defeat at home.

Quite a feat for Janowicz (and her foot).

And her teammates.

 

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