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NCAA Women's Final Four Recap

NCAA Women's Final Four Recap
No. 7 Stanford def. No. 4 Ohio State 4-3

Semifinal Stat: Defending champion Stanford will play for its all-time best 19th NCAA Team Championship on Tuesday. 

Here's How It Happened: Eerily reminiscent of 363 days ago when she clinched the NCAA Championship for Stanford with a three-set win over Oklahoma State, Taylor Davidson once again dropped her racket and fell on her back, only to be swarmed by her Cardinal teammates and helped up several moments later, following her heroics late Monday night. 

The resulting third-set tiebreak win at 7-5 at No. 3 singles for the senior Davidson -- clinching a 4-3 semifinal win over No. 4 Ohio State -- sends the Cardinal back to the NCAA title match where it will face top-seeded Florida on Tuesday at 5 p.m. ET, in what some call the best rivalry in women's college tennis. Stanford (26-2) has won seven of the last 11 meetings and the two teams will be hooking up for the fifth time in the postseason during that stretch.

Things looked bleak from the outset for Stanford as Ohio State dominated the doubles point and then saw the nation's top singles player Francesca Di Lorenzo take down Stanford senior Caroline Doyle with ease at No. 1, 6-1, 6-0, for the 2-0 lead. 

While that was happening, however, Stanford had locked up the first set on the five remaining courts so it appeared things were going to interesting, and fast. Here a quick recap about how Stanford got back into the match: 

Freshman Emily Arbuthnott cruised to a 6-4, 6-3 victory at the No. 5 spot for her 28th win in 32 matches. 

Sophomore Melissa Lord improved to 9-0 all-time in the postseason with a 6-4, 3-6, 6-1 triumph on court two.

Freshman Emma Higuchi extended her winning streak to 22 following a 6-3, 7-5 victory at the No. 6 position.

Ohio State, however, evened it at 3-3 when Miho Kowase edged Caroline Lampl 3-6, 7-6 (0), 7-5 on court four.

That turned all the attention to the Davidson-Gabriella De Santis match. Davidson, from Statesville, N.C., is an accomplished writer who has written about the pressures of winning the clinching match on her own blog (http://taylordavidsonblog.weebly.com/). Her father Mark played baseball at Clemson and was a member of the 1987 World Series champion Minnesota Twins. 

Davidson held three match points during the third-set breaker, leading 6-3. But De Santis battled back to 6-5 before the final classic point, which lasted more than a minute and included several moon balls that narrowly hit the roof. Finally, De Santis lunged at a backhand and hit it long, sending Davidson's racket flying and teammates swarming for a second straight year. 

We'll Leave You With This: The Cardinal eliminated the Gators at the 2016 NCAA Tournament in the round of 16 on its way to the national title. See the complete results here.

No. 4 Florida 4, No. 3 Vanderbilt 2

Semifinal Stat: Florida avenged a pair of regular-season losses against Vanderbilt. 

Here's How It Happened: Perhaps recalling all those long winter months spent training indoors back home in Indianapolis as a junior, Brooke Austin was unfazed when she learned earlier in the day that her No. 4-seeded University of Florida team would be taking on No. 3 Vanderbilt at the Lindsey Hopkins Indoor Courts at the Dan Magill Tennis Complex in Athens. 

Because there are only four courts at the facility, Austin was left in the stands cheering for her team before getting the call at No. 5 singles once a court opened up. The junior Austin provided the clinching victory soon after, a 6-2, 6-3, win over Vandy's Georgina Sellyn, sending Florida into the national title match. 

"I've obviously had never done that before," Austin said. "The first two games I lost and then I finally got it together. It's hard to be in the crowd and cheering and then to be in the middle of it all of a sudden. It was a little bit overwhelming."

In Florida's two regular-season losses to Vanderbilt, Gator No. 1 player Belinda Woolcock had both times fallen to Commordores' No.1 Astra Sharma. Playing physical tennis, the fitter Woolcock steamrolled past her former Australian junior rival Sharma in the final set, winning 6-7 (3), 6-2, 6-0. 

"Today was a rollercoaster," Woolcock said. "Just not knowing what time we played. We had to be flexible upstairs."
The Gators took the doubles point, winning on courts one and two. It was Anna Danilina and Ingrid Neel who were most impressive as they upset the No. 1 doubles pairing of Astra Sharma and Emily Smith, 6-1. 

Vanderbilt seized momentum at the beginning of singles play, taking courts two and three to grab a 2-1 lead in the match after victories from Sydney Campbell (6-4, 6-1; court two) and Christina Rosca (7-5, 6-4; court three). The Gators then reeled off three-straight wins with triumphs on the fourth, first and fifth courts for the clinch.

Florida Head Coach Roland Thornqvist said it is now important for his team to get some rest and take care of their bodies. "It was just so intense," he said. "I just saw a relentless will to win today. We really wanted to prove we could get it done today. We just kept grinding at it and pecking away."

"I'm just so proud of this group," said Vanderbilt Head Coach Geoff Macdonald, whose team suffered five of its six losses indoors this season and its first loss since mid-March. "What a great experience to play a Final Four match. Just amazing."

We'll Leave You With This: This victory was especially sweet for Florida Head Coach Roland Thornqvist, who recorded win No. 400 at Florida and No. 475 overall. Complete results here. 
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