Atlantic Coast Conference Freshman of the Year Sinead Lohan, the next great Miami women’s tennis player, has a whisper of an Irish lilt, a deafening forehand and a temper that sometimes defies her better judgment.
“That’s been the case with every great player at this program,” UM coach Paige Yaroshuk-Tews said. “They go through a natural progression.”
Junior Stephanie Wagner, the 11th-ranked Hurricane who already reached stardom, said during matches she used to blurt out “this German word” that begins with the “sh” sound “and everybody knows is not nice’’ — until Yaroshuk-Tews tamed that tiger.
Both women lead a young Canes squad (16-6, 12-2 ACC) that will host North Florida (17-3, 6-0 A-Sun) at 2 p.m. Friday in an NCAA regional that also includes No. 23 Ole Miss (15-10, 5-8 Southeastern Conference) and Denver (15-8, 7-0 Summit).
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The Ospreys, who are 0-11 all-time against UM and lost to the Canes 4-0 in January, are coached by another feisty player once guided by Yaroshuk-Tews — Fort Lauderdale St. Thomas Aquinas graduate Audra Cohen, the only female Hurricane to ever win a national tennis title.
Cohen, 29, grew up in Plantation and returns to UM for the third time in four years that her Ospreys are facing the Hurricanes in the first round of the NCAA tournament.
Written on Cohen’s 2007 national title ring: “Fight and Play!” — words she constantly shouted during UM matches.
“It means, ‘Shut up, fight and play without worrying about the result,’ ” Cohen said Thursday. “It’s always nice to come back to your alma mater. I played for Paige, and now I have to play against her, but it’s positive because this is my home, and I get to share my experience with my team and the people who helped get me to this point.
“Miami is a tough program, and their girls are tough competitors. It gives my players a better understanding of my expectations.”
Of 318 NCAA Division I women’s tennis teams, Miami is only one of four that has advanced to the Sweet 16 of the national tournament at least nine consecutive times. The others: No. 5 Florida, No. 6 UCLA and No. 14 Stanford.
This is UM’s 11th consecutive regional as host, a “huge’’ accomplishment, UM’s coach said, especially given that five of Miami’s eight scholarship players are freshmen.
“These girls are fierce competitors,’’ Yaroshuk-Tews said. “I don’t think we’ve played our best tennis yet.”
Three Hurricanes — No. 1 singles player Wagner, No.2 Lohan and the 17th-ranked doubles team of Wagner and senior Lina Lileikite — will represent UM in the NCAA individual championships that follow next week’s continuation of the team tournament in Waco, Texas.
“They’re all great kids who care about academics and come from great families,’’ Yaroshuk-Tews said of her international crew, which includes players from Germany (Wagner), Ireland (Lohan), Venezuela (Clementina Riobueno), Spain (Silvia Fuentes), Latvia (Lileikite), Canada (Wendy Zhang) and Brazil (Monique Albuquerque). “They are the nicest group of kids I’ve ever coached — and they lay it out on the court.’’
The pony-tailed, blue-eyed Lohan hails from Waterford, Ireland, and is 18-2 with seven wins over ranked opponents. She mostly played international tournaments before she decided traveling and competing alone were neither as fun, nor as stimulating, as playing in college and earning a degree. She chose Miami over Oklahoma and Georgia.
“I liked the small campus, liked the weather and really liked the palm trees,’’ said Lohan, already ranked 37th and described by senior teammate Albuquerque as “super aggressive.’’
That feisty confidence makes her “mature beyond her years,’’ Yaroshuk-Tews said, recalling an incident during UM’s final regular-season meeting with FSU.
Lohan woke up that day feeling sick to her stomach. But no way was she going to sit this one out. So, one teammate held an umbrella over her head during changeovers and someone else constantly cooled her with ice towels.
“She’s up a set, 4-3, and during a changeover, she looks at me with a smile and says, ‘Can I get this treatment every match?’ ” Yaroshuk-Tews said. “She’s made this season look easy, but it’s very hard to do.’’
Cohen, now on the other side, said she likes Lohan’s grit. “She’s fiery,” Cohen said. “That’s incredibly useful in college tennis.”
Friday’s matches at the Neil Schiff Tennis Center begin with the 11 a.m. opener between Ole Miss and Denver.