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Central Florida, Florida State reach NCAA Round of 16 in Orlando
A pair of Top 10 women’s teams will represent the State of Florida at the NCAA Championships, with Central Florida and Florida State both through to the Round of 16 at the USTA National Campus in Orlando.
The UCF Knights, seeded ninth, play their home matches at the Campus all season. But the next time they take the court in Lake Nona, the stakes will be at an all-time high as the Black and Gold seek their first NCAA quarterfinal appearance. A program very much on the rise, UCF is competing in the Division I tournament for the third straight year, and seventh overall.
No. 7 seed Florida State reached the NCAA quarters once before, in 2018, and finished the pandemic-shortened 2020 spring season at No. 2 in the ITA rankings. The Seminoles have missed the NCAAs just three times during coach Jennifer Hyde’s 17-year tenure, dating back to 2005.
In 2019, UCF upset Florida State in the NCAA second round to make the Round of 16 for the first time in school history. The pair split regular-season meetings in 2020 and 2021, with the Knights taking the most recent match, 4-3, against a shorthanded FSU in April.
At this year’s NCAAs, the two Florida schools sit in opposite halves of the draw and can only meet in the final.
The American Athletic Conference regular-season and tournament champion Knights booked their spot in the last 16 with a 4-1win over Miami on Saturday, bouncing back with a strong singles performance after dropping the doubles point. Jaleesa Leslie of Apopka, Fla.—one of three Florida residents on the UCF squad—chipped in with a win at the No. 5 singles spot.
"Kind of at a loss for words. We obviously wanted this one so badly," fifth-year head coach Bryan Koniecko, who led the program to its first NCAA tournament win in 2018, said after the win.
“You kind of have that extra pressure of wanting to play so badly in the Round of 16, especially when you're the host site. With all of that in consideration and in losing the doubles point, it just shows how much grit from our team on how badly they wanted to be in the next round and keep pushing and keep finding another level for this team.”
Riding an eight-match winning streak, the Knights will put their 20-4 record on the line against unseeded Duke on Sunday at 7 p.m. The Blue Devils reached the NCAA semifinals at the Campus in 2019.
Florida State, through to the last 16 for the third time under coach Hyde and the second time in the last two NCAA tournaments, advanced to Orlando with a 4-1 victory of their own, over Auburn. The Seminoles never trailed after winning the doubles point, sealing the victory with a three-set victory from redshirt sophomore Petra Hule (Australia) at No. 4 singles.
“Getting to the Sweet 16… I’ve been doing this a long time, and it is tough,” said coach Hyde. “Everybody is good at this point. Being at home, hosting was a tremendous help. It’s not easy and this team absolutely battled today. I think our maturity came through today and the composure the team showed in a really stressful situation—they handled it like rock stars.
“You have to have those chops and those guts and when we get down to Orlando we are going to have to bring that every single time we step on the court. We got better today for being pushed like that… We are excited to go down to Orlando and continue this journey.”
READ MORE: 2020 Women's History Month Profile - Jennifer Hyde
The ACC outfit will take on No. 10 seed Texas A&M on Sunday at the Campus, with the first serve scheduled for 1 p.m.
In the men’s Division I tournament—which will also be held at the USTA National Campus, beginning Monday—the top-seeded University of Florida men are the lone Florida team in the Round of 16, with South Florida (vs. UF) and UCF (vs. Mississippi State) bowing out in Round 2.
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