NCAA Womens Tennis

Gators, Thornqvist Show Some Postseason Pep in Step

Gators Women's Tennis Team celebration (2023 vs. Georgia Tech)

GAINESVILLE, Fla. — He called it “amazing May drama.” He did so in an animated voice laced with zest, belying a 53-year-old man of Scandinavian descent in his fourth decade of coaching.

Roland Thornqvist, after a spirited afternoon darting around the court Saturday during his Gators women’s tennis team’s NCAA Tournament victory over Georgia Tech, flashed a familiar spunk missing this time of year the past few seasons.

Florida’s 4-1 win over the Yellow Jackets meant more tennis. The Gators travel to play at No. 1-seed North Carolina on Friday in the Super Regional Round.

They did the same thing a season ago. But not like this.

“We’re a completely different team,” Thornqvist said. “Last year’s team was happy with going to Chapel Hill to play No. 1. That was an achievement. I don’t think this year’s team feels that way at all. This team sees a path to four points.

“It’s tough to win if you don’t really think you can.”

The ’22 Gators got swept by the Tar Heels. Still, after three consecutive postseasons ended in the second round, last year’s team advanced a round deeper, a sign of progress for a program that has won four national titles under Thornqvist, including the 2017 crown.

The ’23 Gators are young. Six of the nine members are first- or second-year players. They played much older in their win over Georgia Tech, a victory capped when freshman Rachel Gailis defeated Alejandra Cruz 3-6, 6-4, 6-3.

In his 22nd season, Thornqvist celebrated the moment on the court and immediately turned the focus to their North Carolina trip. He reminded the Gators (18-7) how far they have come from a few weeks ago. Florida lost back-to-back Southeastern Conference matches to Tennessee and Georgia a month ago. The Gators are 5-1 since and now have an opportunity to make their most significant statement yet at North Carolina (31-1).

The Gators swarm Rachel Gailis (hidden in the huddle) after her victory at No. 4 singles clinched an NCAA Tournament victory over Georgia Tech on Saturday at the Alfred A. Ring Tennis Complex. (Photo: Maddie Washburn/UAA Communications)

It won’t be easy. Nothing usually is against the Tar Heels, the tournament’s top overall seed for the third consecutive year. However, after starting 29-0, North Carolina lost to N.C. State in the Atlantic Coast Conference Tournament Championship.

But Thornqvist’s message after Saturday’s win was more about his team’s journey than the challenge the Tar Heels pose. The Gators had to dig deep in the…

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