While most South Florida sports teams regularly fail to make the postseason, there is at least one that is a lock every year at this time — the University of Miami women’s tennis team.
The Hurricanes, led by longtime coach Paige Yaroshuk-Tews, are headed to the NCAA tournament for the 24th year in a row. They have earned a berth in the tournament 34 of 38 years, reached the Sweet 16 in 12 of the past 13 years and were national runners-up in 2006 and 1985.
They open at 3 p.m. Friday in Stillwater, Oklahoma, against Washington State. Miami is ranked No. 19 and Washington State is No. 34. The winning team faces the winner of Oklahoma State vs. Central Arkansas for a spot in the Super Regional. The final three rounds will be held at the USTA National Campus in Orlando May 16-19.
A big reason for Miami’s success is the shortest player on the team, junior Estela Perez-Somarriba, a 5-5 Spaniard who is ranked No. 1 in the nation and the top seed in the 64-player NCAA singles championship, which is May 20-25, also in Orlando.
“When Stela first came to Miami, I can’t even believe I’m saying this, but we were truly thinking she’d be a solid middle-lineup player for us,” Yaroshuk-Tews said. “Now, she’s close to a 4.0 GPA and ranked No. 1 in the country. I’ve never in all my years seen someone so committed and so disciplined to everything from academics to nutrition to studying the game. She’s obviously exceeded my expectations.”
Perez-Somarriba compensates for her lack of height by being a fitness freak, pressing opponents and not letting them open up the court on her.
“She blows my mind every day,” Yaroshuk-Tews said. “I can’t tell you how many `Wows’ I’ve said in my head watching her play. She’ll ask me, `How would you coach someone to beat me?’ and then she’ll go work on that. You don’t have a lot of kids ask that. She’s special and one you hope goes far.”
Perez-Somarriba is the fifth UM player to earn the top seed in the NCAA tournament, and the first time since Audra Cohen, who held the distinction in 2006 and 2007. Before that, Megan Bradley was the top seed in 2005 and Ronni Reis in 1988. Reis is now the head coach at the University of Michigan, Cohen coaches at the University of Oklahoma and Bradley works in player development for the U.S. Tennis Association.
Like those other Hurricane greats, Perez-Somarriba, a native of Madrid, has been collecting awards since arriving on campus. She is a three-time All-American, a two-time ACC Player of the Year, reached the Final Four in 2017 and the Sweet 16 last season.
She chose Miami over joining the pro tour after falling in love during her campus visit. “I loved the atmosphere, the coaches, the high-level tennis. I felt it was the perfect place for me to become a better tennis player and human being,” she said. “I also love the fact that there’s a mix of cultures in Miami, it’s very unique.”
Perez-Somarriba fits right in on a UM roster that features eight international players — three from Spain, and one each from Netherlands, Japan, Argentina, Colombia and Russia.
“Our team has been playing better the past few months, and we are very excited for the postseason,” Perez-Somarriba said. “We think we can win the first two rounds. I have a lot of confidence in us.”
The UM men’s team also made the NCAA tournament, as did teams from University of Florida, Florida State and University of Central Florida.