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Acting as a ‘heat-seeking missile,’ Texas women dominate N.C. State in NCAA tennis

Horns gunning for national title Saturday; Joffe: ‘The level of poise that these people are bringing knocks my block off.’

The Longhorns share congratulations after their 4-0 sweep of North Carolina State in the NCAA semifinals. Second-ranked Texas will meet either No. 1 North Carolina or No. 5 Pepperdine in Saturday's championship final.

You don’t need to understand the nuances of women’s tennis to know a tail-kicking when you see it.

No. 2 Texas simply dismantled No. 6 North Carolina State on Friday in such dominating fashion that even the TV announcers were stunned. Calling it an easy 4-0 sweep in the NCAA national semifinals doesn’t do it justice, frankly. Coach Howard Joffe is guiding a burnt-orange steamroller.

The Horns (30-1) won the doubles point, and then Peyton Stearns, Charlotte Chavatipon and Malaika Rapolu — all freshmen — captured singles victories to close it out by midday.

A late lunch Friday, some nap time and a chance for a national championship on tap this weekend.

Texas will face either No. 1 North Carolina or No. 5 Pepperdine in Saturday’s championship final. The Horns are gunning for their third national title to go with wins in 1993 and 1995. This will be their first appearance in the finals since 2005.

“If I could use the imagery of a heat-seeking missile, you need to sort of have the intention and expect that you’re going to do well,” Joffe said. “You have sort of a way of finding the success. It’s definitely a team from the outset the intention has been to win.”

Joffe noted how the Longhorns are playing with joy. And at no time did he see any slippage at the UTSA National Campus in Orlando, Fla.

More:After a program swoon, Texas women closing in on NCAA national title while UT men keep battling

“We really put our foot on the gas,” he said. “The level of poise that these people are bringing knocks my block off.”

Asked about being compared to a heat-seeking missile, Stearns just smiled.

“He likes to use a lot of analogies,” she said. “I think that just means we’re coming in hot. We’ve lost once. We’re in the finals now of the NCAAs. We’ve had a lot of success behind us. We’re ready. We’re ready for this.”

Texas freshman Peyton Stearns wins a point during her 6-1, 6-2 singles match against North Carolina State's Anna Rogers on Friday. She improved to 12-4 playing out of the No. 1 singles position.

Stearns is sure ready. She had a rare stumble against Ohio State in the region semifinals, losing 2-6, 0-6. But the Ohio native bounced back against Florida State and was the clear aggressor against N.C. State’s Anna Rogers.

Stearns’ forehand smashes had no answer. Rogers had little response to the backhand blasts coming her way, too. Plays at the net? Forget it.

“Anna Rogers just looks like she’s on the run the whole time,” the TennisONE analyst said.

And to be clear, Rogers was no slouch. This was one of the winningest players in Wolfpack history, a senior with more than 90 singles victories on her ledger. Stearns just tore her way through to a 6-1, 6-2 victory. She’s now 12-4 this season when playing in the No. 1 position.

“I just went out there trusting my game, in all honesty,” Stearns said. “I’m a big offensive player. I stayed on her. I think it was really tough for her to even get into the point. I tried to stay on that the whole time and just not let her in.”

Texas freshman Malaika Rapolu's 6-3, 6-1 win over North Carolina State's Lexi Keberie clinched the Longhorns' semifinal victory.

Over on court No. 4, Chavatipon mowed through a 6-3, 6-2 win over Jaeda Daniel. The freshman with 17 straight victories was humming along up to the finish. She double-faulted and hit one long. But Chavatipon gathered herself and forced Daniel from corner to corner until her match point return shot was knocked well over the county line.

“It’s easy to get caught up in the moment,” N.C. State coach Simon Earnshaw said. “And in some ways the moment got the better of us today, I think.”

Rapolu had the great fortune of finishing her 6-3, 6-1 win, thereby clinching the team victory, before the rest of her teammates. Anna Turati was cruising on court two, Lulu Sun had a leg up on court three and Kylie Collins had a one-set lead on court five. 

Texas senior Anna Turati reaches low for a shot during her match against North Carolina State in Friday's 4-0 victory. The Longhorns will try to win their third national championship Saturday.

Had all those finished out, Texas might have swept all six singles matches.

“I think that expression that the dog days of summer is, you know, playing your 58th baseball game in Kansas City in late June,” Joffe said. “Our players can see the finish line, and they are being challenged every day. So I think there’s sort of a sense they’re storming and charging what they’re hoping to do, their intention.”

As for a championship opponent, Joffe doesn’t care, although UT wouldn’t mind another shot at North Carolina, the only team that’s gotten the better of Texas this season. The Tar Heels won 4-3 at the ITA national team indoor championship in February.

“I’m a romantic, and the poetic justice doesn’t matter. We deal in facts,” Joffe said. “We’ll be happy to play whoever tomorrow.”

Contact Brian Davis by phone or text at 512-445-3957. Email bdavis@statesman.com or @BDavisAAS.