CORAL GABLES, Fla. – The University of Miami women’s tennis team’s quest for their first team national championship has reached a familiar place, the Sweet 16.
The Canes (22-5) are set to play in their eighth consecutive Sweet 16. Miami’s streak of reaching the Round of 16 is the fifth-longest active streak in the NCAA. Head coach Paige Yaroshuk-Tews understands that advancing to the Sweet 16 is an accomplishment.
“It’s a huge accomplishment,” Yaroshuk-Tews said of the streak. “You don’t want to take anything away from the girls because to get to the Sweet Sixteen is tough and it’s grueling and we’re still playing at the end of May. But with this talent, this is where they should be.”
Yaroshuk-Tews, who was named the 2013 ITA Southeast Region Coach of the Year, admits she would not have been satisfied with her team’s season ending prior to the Round of 16. In her 12th-year at Miami, Yaroshuk-Tews feels reaching the Round of 16 has become the standard for Hurricanes tennis.
“If we don’t get to the final sixteen, I’m not happy,” Yaroshuk-Tews said. “I make that known with my staff. I don’t make it known with the girls, but this is where we should be and we need to go further than this. At the beginning of the year, we talked about the fact that we need to push and push further than the quarters. Each year we need to look to get better. That’s a goal we set in the fall. Last year was quarterfinals and this year we need to make a push.”
To make a push, the No. 6 Hurricanes need to beat 11th-ranked Northwestern in the Sweet 16 on Friday in Urbana, Ill., the host of this season’s NCAA National Tennis Championships. The two teams met earlier this season at the ITA National Indoor Championships in Charlottesville, Va. in February. Northwestern won the match, 4-2.
“Northwestern beat us in National Indoors,” Yaroshuk-Tews said. “It came down to Kelsey [Laurente] and she lost a tight match. We’re expecting a tough match. It’s almost home court advantage for them because it’s so close to Champaign. They play good doubles. They’re really good through the middle of the lineup. The doubles play will be crucial but we’re expecting a tough match for sure.”
Freshman Stephanie Wagner is one of two Hurricanes who scored a point against Northwestern when the two teams faced off on Feb. 10. Wagner, who was named the 2013 ITA Southeast Region Rookie of the Year, beat Northwestern’s Brittany Wowchuk, 6-2, 7-6 (7-5). Even though Miami fell short in February, the Amberg, Germany native believes the experience will help them when they play the Wildcats in Urbana.
“I think it’s good even though we lost last time,” Wagner said. “We didn’t play very well. If we stay calm, stay energetic and take care of the things we should take care of, we’ll be the better team.”
Should Miami advance past Northwestern on Friday, they would face the winner of No. 3 Texas A&M and No. 14 Virginia on Sunday. The Hurricanes would also reach the Elite Eight for a record fifth consecutive year. Only Miami and Duke can claim active Elite Eight streaks of four consecutive years. Junior Melissa Bolivar has been a part of the last two Elite Eight teams and she feels this team has what it takes to extend the streak.
“It’s what we look forward to during this year,” Bolivar said. “We want to get to the semis and finals. We’re thinking about winning the title. That’s the exciting part. We will take it one match at a time and hopefully we can make something happen.”
Friday’s match is scheduled to begin at 5 p.m. EST.