Pair reaches NCAA singles’ Sweet 16

Despite losing two of its top four singles players, the University of Miami women’s tennis team made it to the NCAA Quarterfinals for the fourth time in five years.

The 10th-ranked Hurricanes lost 4-0 to the third-ranked Florida Gators in Athens, Ga.

Recent graduate Laura Vallverdu and rising senior Bianca Eichkorn both reached the “Sweet 16” to make Miami (20-6) the only program to send two singles players into the round.

“I don’t think anyone expected this year’s program, once we found out Julia Cohen wasn’t coming back, to end up No. 10 in the country,” head coach Paige Yaroshuk-Tews said. “We kept our focus and we kept moving forward and we kept getting better.”

Vallverdu, a four-time All-American whose run ended in the semifinals, finished her UM career with the most singles victories in program history.

Her record was 131-34 over four years and she led the team with a season-high 35 victories. She was the NCAA singles runner-up last year.

“It hasn’t really sunk in yet that I’m not going back to school and playing for the team,” Vallverdu said. “Not only was it an athletic experience, but I hung out with amazing people for four years.”

Next season the Canes will field two freshmen, two sophomores and two juniors.

Eichkorn, who ranked 40th in the country and won 26 consecutive matches until she lost in the Sweet 16, will be the lone senior.

“I think she’s proven to herself that she can play with the best kids in the country and that’s what she’s going to be doing next year,” Yaroshuk-Tews said. “We’re going to expect her to step up and lead the team and I think that she’s finally proven to herself that she can do that.”

It will be up to Eichkorn to fill Vallverdu’s shoes as the team leader and player at the first position.

In college tennis, six singles players can win a point for the overall team score. Three doubles matches decide the doubles point. The first team to four points wins.

“She’s a great girl. She’s very disciplined,” Vallverdu said. “She’s going to have to be tough on the new girls, but take them under her wing. She keeps up what she’s doing and she’s going to do great. She just has to stay calm and don’t let the pressure of being the top position affect her.”

Set to attend Barry University to receive her master’s in sport and exercise psychology, Vallverdu plans on attending matches next spring. She’ll continue to be her vocal self and encourage her former teammates while in the stands.

“The other girls are doing awesome. They finished this year very well,” Vallverdu said. “I think they’re just going to have to stick with the philosophy and keep doing what Paige preaches.”

Yaroshuk-Tews doesn’t expect any sort of drop in play with the loss of Vallverdu. This past season the team won 15 of its first 17 matches and finished second in the Atlantic Coast Conference behind the North Carolina Tar Heels.

“My expectations for any team I coach is that they come out and they give everything that they have and whatever happens, happens,” Yaroshuk-Tews said. “We like to keep things pretty simple and focused and that’s what we do.”

Christina De Nicola may be contacted at