NCAA TENNIS: Gators Overwhelm SC State, 4-0

South Carolina State came into the first round of Friday's NCAA Tennis Tournament with the nation's best record at 26-1 and its first ever big to the championships. One hour and 43 minutes after squaring off with the Florida Gators at the Alfred Ring Tennis Complex, the Bulldogs had learned a valuable lesson in what it's like to play with the big girls.

The champions of the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference (MEAC) were dominated by Florida, 4-0, in a match that looked far too easy for the second-ranked Gators, champions of the Southeastern Conference.

Playing for the first time in two weeks since defeating Vanderbilt and Kentucky on back to back days to capture the SEC Tournament, the Gators won the doubles point in less than 30 minutes before turning up the heat a bit more in the singles play.

"We didn't give anything away," said Florida Coach Roland Thornqvist, whose team improved to 19-2. The Gators will face off at 4 p.m. Saturday with Florida International, a winner over Florida State in Friday's other first round matchup.

"In singles, we were close to flawless in our shot selection," said Thornqvist. "I think we made them look a lot worse than they are."

Florida took the singles matches at number four (Whitney Benik) 6-0, 6-0, and numbers five (Alex Liles) and six (Lolita Frangulyan) won by identical 6-0, 6-1 margins.

Those three points were all Florida needed. When play was suspended since the Gators already had the match won, number one Jennifer Magley was leading 6-0, 4-1; number two Zerene Reyes was leading 6-0, 4-1, and number three Nina Suvak was ahead 6-0, 2-1.

Thornqvist was pleased with the no-nonsense attitude shown by his team, which used the two weeks off to get in good shape with both health and fitness.

"Their attitude was very business like," he said. "Throughout the day of preparation and throughout the two and a half weeks that we have had, they have been very good in preparation for the tournament. That's when you want to do your preaching and pushing; now we want to just turn them loose to play."

The time off was helpful, he said, because "obviously, healthwise, we're getting better and fitness, in particular, it's really helped us. We did a lot of work when it started getting hot around here and we've always said that fitness is directly related to toughness. We feel strong and we know we can last and we can play however long it takes.

"We know we can let every point take two minutes if we have to and that's how you beat teams 6-0, 6-1, 6-1, 6-1."

The match with South Carolina State really didn't test his team, but Thornqvist called the Bulldogs "a very good team." He said that the Gators were plenty ready to play because of the caliber of competition Florida faced in the SEC tournament where they had to play three ranked teams in three days.

For South Carolina State, a 15-match winning streak came to an end. The Bulldogs hadn't been beaten since February 23 when they lost 4-3 to College of Charleston. The Gators were the first ranked team South Carolina State had played all year.

"I think we played a really good South Carolina State team today but you could tell they haven't played the same quality of teams because they weren't ready," said Thornqvist. "They hit a big ball in the corner and they weren't ready for it to come back. We could keep getting their big balls back and they're just not used to having to hit one, two, three consecutive good balls but that's what playing in the SEC does. It gets you ready for this type of competition."

Thornqvist said that Saturday's opponent, Florida International, is a very good team but said if the Gators play like they did on Friday, he likes their chances to advance to next week's NCAA finals in Athens, Georgia.

"If we'll come out with the same businesslike attitude we had today and if we play as well as we did today I think our chances are very good," he said.

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