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Seventh heaven: Florida defeats Stanford for national championship No. 7

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Florida raced out to a big lead, then gutted out the pivotal point against the Cardinal.

@GatorsWTN

For the third time this decade, the Florida Gators and Stanford Cardinal met with the national championship in women’s tennis on the line.

For the second time, on Tuesday night, the Gators won.

Florida bolted from the gate, then gritted out its championship-clinching final singles match to take a 4-1 victory over the Cardinal, the seventh in program history.

No other Gators program has more than four national titles.

The Gators raced out to a 2-0 lead on Tuesday, winning the doubles point 2-0 and getting a double-bagel victory from Kourtney Keegan — 6-0, 6-0 — over Stanford freshman Emma Higuchi, who had been on a 22-match winning streak in singles competition.

But after getting another straight-set victory and singles point from Belinda Woolcock at No. 1 singles, Florida’s championship road got rockier, as Brooke Austin failed to convert a match point at No. 5 singles, staving off what would have been a stunning sweep of the battle-tested defending national champions.

Yet Florida still had three viable shots at winning the crucial fourth singles point after Josie Kuhlman fell to Melissa Lord to give Stanford its only point of the evening. And although Stanford’s Taylor Davidson came out of a trainer visit for what appeared to be a cramp on fire in her match against Florida freshman Ingrid Neel, the Gators’ precocious No. 3 singles player stood firm when it was necessary.

After Davidson closed a 3-0 lead in the third set to 3-2 with an array of vicious shots and aggressive play that put Neel on her heels, the freshman rallied to win the match’s final three games, with Davidson sending a forehand wide to give the title to the Gators.

It’s appropriate, perhaps, that Neel’s name rhymes with steel: This was actually the second national championship-clinching point of her young Florida career, as she won the final game of Florida’s triumph in the ITA National Indoors competition earlier this academic year.

And Florida’s seventh national title coming against longtime rival Stanford, which is the only team in the nation with more national championships, is as or more fitting.

To take home the hardware, Florida had to fell the tallest tree in its sport.

And five years to the day after last doing so, on the same court, the Gators did just that.