Gators and Hurricanes don’t mix.
Everybody knows that, including sophomore Julia Cohen. Yet the instate rivalry wasn’t enough to stop the University of Florida tennis star from skipping town to became a Cane.
“I kind of just wish I started here at Miami,” Cohen said. “I can’t change it, but after the NCAA tournament last year, I decided that Gainesville wasn’t a great fit.”
In her freshman season at Florida, Cohen was selected as the Rookie of the Year, for both the SEC and the Intercollegiate Tennis Association, finishing with an overall singles rank of 32 in the country.
This year she has raised her game to new heights under the tutelage of head coach Paige Yaroshuk-Tews. Cohen is currently ranked No. 4 by the ITA in singles play.
“Since the beginning of the year, Julia has really improved,” Yaroshuk-Tews said. “Her serve’s getting bigger. She’s adding a new dimension to her game slowly, which is what you have to do with Julia’s game. She is one of the smartest players I’ve ever seen in college tennis.”
Cohen had been cruising before the ACC championships, riding a 15-match winning streak before falling in the ACC championship match to Duke’s No. 16 Mallory Cecil. Her addition to the team has stacked UM at every singles spot. The Canes and the University of California are the only two schools in the nation with three players in the ITA Top 30. Yaroshuk-Tews calls it “a coach’s dream.”
Miami was close to getting Cohen right out of high school. In her senior year, she had a tough time deciding between UM and UF. Though the Philadelphia, Penn. native initially gave Yaroshuk-Tews a verbal agreement to attend Miami, she later chose to go with Florida. Yaroshuk-Tews did not hold that against Cohen when she wanted to switch over to the Miami program.
“I saw her play at the NCAAs, and I didn’t think she was playing great tennis,” Yaroshuk-Tews said. “I was happy to have her. You’re always happy to land a good player, and I knew I could help her get better so I was excited.”
Cohen has felt right at home in Coral Gables because of her family ties to the school. Julia’s brother Josh played for UM from 2003 to 2007.
Josh, now an assistant coach with the University of Pennsylvania men’s tennis team, says he savored every moment of his time at school.
“It was probably the best four years of my life,” Josh said. “I wouldn’t trade it for anything in the world.”
Though Julia was between her brother’s alma mater and one of UM’s biggest rivals, Josh didn’t try to sway her toward Miami.
“I wanted her to make her own decision,” Josh said. “At the time she thought she’d be happier going to Florida, so I respected that.”
As soon as Julia chose to transfer to UM, Josh was elated.
“I thought it was an excellent choice,” Josh said. “I can tell that she’s definitely a lot happier now than she was at Florida last year. I don’t think she’s had as much fun in her life as she’s having right now.”
Cohen has had a better support system in Miami, which has helped her excel. She loves spending time with her new teammates and friends that she had from when her brother was at UM.
“She needs to feel comfortable in her environment,” Yaroshuk-Tews said. “I think that has improved as well.”
Florida was unfamiliar territory for Cohen.
“Gainesville is kind of isolated. I didn’t really know anybody up there,” Cohen said.
Although everybody at UF knew her, Cohen prefers being a little fish in a big pond.
“In Gainesville everybody knows you because it’s such a small city,” Cohen said. “Here, it’s more chill, and I can just kind of do my own thing because it’s such a big city.”
Despite being over half a year into her UM career, Cohen still gets approached from fans all the time about her big move.
“Everybody always asks me ‘why did you transfer from Florida to Miami?'” Cohen said.
She is used to it at this point and her quick answer back is, “I like the city better.”