The Florida State women’s tennis team is in the Elite Eight for just the second time in program history. FSU has found success as a team with, yes, a pair of top-50 individuals, Giulia Pairone and Emmanuelle Salas, but more so with a deep group of veterans.
“Depth is crucial,” FSU women’s tennis coach Jennifer Hyde said. “You can have a top 10 Player at No. 1. The belief in the depth is the big thing. I think over the span of time, all positions realize that we can win at any spot. And you don’t get any breaks in any spot that you’re playing right now. I don’t care if you’re at one or at six, it is an absolute dogfight. The confidence that we have in all the spots is critical. And I think that’s one thing that’s grown over time, because we’ve had different people contribute at times. And then slowly, it’s kind of come together for everyone. All six are on board getting the job done.”
When FSU faces No. 2 Texas on Wednesday at Lake Nona, Fla., with a spot in the Final Four on the line, the Seminoles are here because top to bottom they are consistently winning at singles positions Nos. 3-5. Nandini Das is 8-4 at No. 3 singles, Petra Hule is 7-0 at No. 4 singles, Vic Allen is 10-0 at No. 5 singles and Andrea Garcia is 16-2 at No. 6.
Pairone has delivered eight wins vs. ranked players at No. 1, while Salas has four wins over ranked opponents at the No. 2 position. But while it’s easy to focus on the best singles players in college tennis, especially with matches taking place concurrently, the Seminoles have showcased that depth.
“That’s one thing that’s pretty special about our program is the team piece that we have intact,” Hyde said. “I know it’s unique. I talked to the kids about it, and they talked to their friends that are at other programs. They feel that it’s pretty special something to be a part of. And I think that that team part of what we do, some coaches might want to coach very individualized tennis but we do both. And we integrate both. And I think that’s part of the magic and part of the fun that we have with what we do too. I think they enjoy it too. I think they believe in it.”
The results have shown the past four years, part of a historic run for the program. The Seminoles reached their first NCAA quarterfinals in 2018, the second round in 2019 and were ranked No. 2 in the nation in 2020 before the pandemic shut down all sports. FSU was just a few points away from knocking off No. 1 UNC in a match at the Scott Speicher Tennis Center last winter.
This spring, FSU has been in the top 10 each week and posted a program-best 11-2 mark in the ACC.
“Playing such a tough schedule definitely helps,” said Das, a fifth-year senior. “I think it lifts the teams up. I don’t think there’s any harm in playing such a tough schedule. After playing that tough schedule, we just get more and more prepared for the NCAA Tournament even after a tough loss like we did to Miami (in the ACC Tournament).”
Now the Seminoles are on the cusp of another first: A spot in the Final Four is theirs if they can upset Texas. It may appear to be a big leap and a tough one against a formidable opponent. No knock on Texas, which is 28-1 and has only lost to No. 1 UNC. But Das says there is a confidence in what the players have accomplished through the years.
“I think the last five years have all been ‘This is the first time we’ve done this’ and ‘This is the first time we’ve done this,’ ” Das said. “If we back down from a challenge every time we thought this was the first time we were going to do something we probably would have accomplished nothing. Being in a situation now where we’ve continued to make history this entire time and break barriers and not just be a statistic but create the program to where we leave a legacy where it continues to grow and grow. And one day, we are here playing for a national championship. And that’s just where we want to be.
“This is not a challenge. This is where we belong. And all the girls are talented and have worked hard enough — not just this year with COVID but it’s just our lifestyle. Now, we want to be here, we want to play tennis. So if we get an opportunity to do that to do just that, then it’s our job.”
FSU players also have something of a home-court edge, playing in the Orlando area with plenty of emotion behind them.
“Our crowd, it was insane,” Hyde said. “It felt like it was a home match up there. People were getting rowdy, doing the warchant up there. It’s like we haven’t skipped a beat. And we’ve had such great crowds all semester too at home. It definitely is like our backyard right now. And I think there’s a lot of people in the area that are coming out to support and flying in and driving in to continue to support us. And that means a lot.”