By Jeff Owens/Photo by SC Athletics
Mia Horvit admits she was a bit nervous going into the first round of the NCAA Women's Tennis Tournament Friday.
"It was the first round of the NCAAs so nerves are definitely going to kick in," Horvit said.
But the freshman star for South Carolina turned things around quickly after a slow start, beating North Florida's Rafaela Gomez, 7-5, 6-1, at No. 2 singles to clinch a 4-0 win for the No. 14 Gamecocks.
"I think I have clinched maybe once so it feels pretty good, especially in this big of a tournament," Horvit said.
The Gamecocks improved to 19-8, tying last year's squad for the best record since 1995. They advance to the second round to play Texas, which defeated Wake Forest 4-3, Saturday. The match is scheduled for 1 p.m. at Carolina Tennis Center, but could be played earlier or moved to an indoor facility with inclement weather a possibility. Check @GamecockWTennis on Twitter for the latest information.
South Carolina got off to a strong start against North Florida, winning two doubles matches to earn the doubles point and take a 1-0 lead. Hadley Berg and Paige Cline, the No. 25 ranked doubles team in the country, got on the board first, beating Luise Intert and Quetzali Vazquez 6-1. Caroline Dailey and Rachel Rohrabacher then beat Gomez and Lucia Montano 6-3 at No. 3 to clinch the doubles point.
Brigit Folland and Ingrid Gamarra Martins were up 5-3 in their match when doubles competition ended.
Berg and Folland got off the hot starts in singles and both won easily to give South Carolina an early 3-0 lead. Berg defeated Intert, 6-0, 6-1, while Folland beat Kinga Gartner, 6-1, 6-1.
Horvit, who is ranked No. 47 in the country and was named to the SEC All-Freshman team, rallied to win the first set of her match 7-5, and then took the second set 6-1 to clinch the match for South Carolina.
"We got the job done," head coach Kevin Eply said. "I think we were a little rusty just having not competed in a couple of weeks, but it's good that we got this match under our belt. I think we have to play a little bit better in doubles across the board, but overall we did what we needed to do to get that match today."
No. 1 singles player Ingrid Gamarra Martins won her first set, 7-5, over Michelle Valdez and the two were tied 3-3 when the team match ended.
Cline won her first set, 6-3, at No. 3 but trailed 4-5 when the match ended. Silvia Chinellato lost her first set, 5-7, at No. 4 but had just won the second set, 6-0, when play was suspended.
Berg and Folland once again played key roles for South Carolina. Berg won her 20th Dual match of the season, improving to 20-2. She is the first Gamecock since 2009 to win 20 Dual matches in a season. Folland improved to 18-2, 13-1 at No. 6 singles.
"Hadley and Brigit have been consistent all year and we do count on their points quite a bit," Epley said. "It's a little bit unfair to them because they have to win every time, that's a lot of pressure on them, but it's nice they were able to take care of business."
Horvit, who improved to 12-10 in Dual matches and 6-2 at the No. 2 spot, trailed in the first set before rallying for a 7-5 win and then rolling to a 6-1 win in the second set.
"When Mia is playing her game, she doesn't lose," Epley said. "It's just a matter if she is nervous and distracted. But I think she started moving a little bit better and started opening the court up a little bit more and playing a little more assertively and playing her game and starting running away from it."
"I tried not to think to much about the score, just think about how to play my game and started switching things around," Horvit said. "Once I finally got that momentum I just stuck to my game plan and eded up taking it to her in the second set."
The Gamecocks, who are making their 27th appearance in the NCAA Tournament, have now advanced to the second round for the fifth straight year under Epley. They will try to advance to the Sweet 16 Saturday against No. 22 Texas and win their 20th match of the season for the first time since 1995.
"Texas is a very talented team," Epley said. "They have got some fiery girls who are sort of the spirit and passion of the team and they compete hard. I expect a very tough match."
The Gamecocks have some momentum, however, after the 4-0 win in the first round.
"We're definitely confident going into tomorrow's match," Horvit said.