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Gators Prove They Are #1: NCAA Finals Recap

Gators Prove They Are #1: NCAA Finals Recap
Photo: Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports
University of Florida Beats Defending Champion Stanford For Seventh National Title 

ATHENS, Ga. -- Dominating doubles, and the book-ends of its singles lineup coming up with massive straight-set wins -- Belinda Woolcock at No. 1 and Kourtney Keegan at No. 6 -- is really all you need to know about how the No. 1 University of Florida jumped out to a mind-blowing 3-0 lead in the NCAA Women's National Championship against defending champion Stanford on Tuesday night. 

Then you throw in one of the most talented freshman women's players to come around in years -- No. 3 player Ingrid Neel -- to finish things off, and that's about all you need to know about how the Gators captured third seventh national title with a 4-1 win over the Cardinal on the outdoor courts of the Dan Magill Tennis Complex in Athens.  

In between the doubles heroics and the Woolcock-Keegan wins came Stanford's lone highlight on the evening as sophomore Melissa Lord beat UF's Josie Kuhlman at No. 2, 6-4, 7-5.

So now let's talk about the 18-year-old Neel, a January enrollee at Florida who had this to say following her win over Monday's semifinal Stanford hero Taylor Davidson in three sets, 5-7, 6-3, 6-2: 

Well if you would have told me that I would clinch the match today, I would have said you were wrong, and then if you told me that when the team was up three-love today, I would have said you were crazy. So, I didn't think it would come down to me, but I just kept on fighting. I knew that Stanford could turn it around, but I just couldn't believe I was the one to finish it. It just means so much. I could not have done it without an incredible team, and the coaching that I had.
Born on Long Island, N.Y., Neel left her upbringing in Rochester, Minn., to go back to New York as a young teen and spent time training at the John McEnroe Tennis Academy in New York before heading down to IMG in Bradenton, Fla., where she trained with some of the best pro and junior players in the world the past two and a half years. 

Neel was the nation's No. 1 recruit coming out of high school and had already reached No. 501 on the WTA Tour (2015) and was a winner of a Pro Circuit Futures singles tournament in 2016, as well as winning six pro doubles titles last year, teaming with partners like young Americans CiCi Bellis and Taylor Townsend. 

Neel will rest easy Tuesday night with clinching dreams in her head, but will awake Wednesday morning gearing up to open play in the NCAA Women's Individual Singles when she takes on Pepperdine No. 2 Ashley Lahey in the first round. 

Florida's national title was the first since the Lauren Embree days back in 2012. 

"What can I say? This team has worked so hard all year, from when we met in August to now," said Florida Head Coach Roland Thornqvist.

We've talked about playing on stages like this and what to expect. We trained for, and tried to visualize what it would be like when you get close to the line, and what characteristics you have to have in order to really get through. I think what you saw today was a combination of training and a lot of effort, and I am really proud of them.

Stanford Head Coach Lele Forood said her team's doubles play got the team off to a slow start. 

"That created a little bit of a tough road when you have to find four," Forood said. "They started pretty well in a lot of the singles matches and we made a nice push to get back in it. We won some second sets and I was really happy for Melissa (Lord) to get a win before we ran out of good fortune. They're a very strong team and their seniors played phenomenally. Our team fought hard and we were fighting back in a couple matches but we just couldn't find that one extra."
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