Embree’s heroics send Florida women’s tennis to fifth NCAA title in 4-3 nail-biter over Stanford

After four hours of action at Taube Tennis Stadium in Stanford, CA, sophomore Lauren Embree fought her way to a third set and defeated Mallory Burdette 8-6 in a tiebreaker to send No. 2 Florida Gators women’s tennis (31-1) to a 4-3 victory in the 2011 NCAA Championship over the No. 1 Stanford Cardinal (28-1).

Florida captured their fifth NCAA Championship – and first national title since 2003 – by upending Stanford on their home court. The Cardinal had been undefeated at home over the last 184 matches spanning more than 12 years (Feb. 27, 1999).

The Gators started hot out of the gate, quickly clinching the doubles point. The No. 45 duo of sophomore Lauren Embree and freshman Sofie Oyen defeated Nicole Gibbs/Veronica Li to win their set 8-3, and the No. 37 pairing of sophomore Caroline Hitimana and junior Joanna Mather matched them with an 8-3 victory of their own over the No. 43 team of Carolyn McVeigh and Stacey Tan to win the point outright.

After a short break, Stanford quickly turned the contest around and took a 2-1 lead with consecutive singles victories – both in straight sets. No. 3 Hilary Barte got it started by defeating Florida’s ace – No. 7 sophomore Allie Will – 6-2, 6-4; No. 18 Gibbs piled on the pressure by topping No. 91 Oyen 6-4, 7-5.

The Cardinal and the Gators then did battle in a trio of matches that all advanced to the third set. Stacey Tan won the first with a 3-6, 6-2, 6-4 victory over No. 42 Mather to give Stanford a 3-1 lead, but No. 54 freshman Alex Cercone quickly responded by fighting back to earn a 4-6, 6-1, 6-4 win over Li to reduce Florida’s deficit to 3-2.

The chance the Gators had appeared to have quickly faded as No. 22 Burdette took a 4-0 advantage on No. 17 Embree in their third set. Burdette fought back from a 5-1 deficit in the first set to win 7-5 but gave up the second 6-3 to Embree. Florida’s standout sophomore then turned the tide, winning five-straight games to take a 5-4 lead in the final set. Simultaneously, No. 53 freshman Olivia Janowicz went up 4-0 in her third set against McVeigh, seemingly giving the Gators the advantage back.

Embree, attempting to break Burdette’s serve and win the match, had double match point with a 40-15 lead. However, Burdette powered her way to deuce and then to victory, tying the contest 5-5. Embree answered back to take a 6-5 lead, but Burdette responded by winning the next game to once again tie the match 6-6 and force a tiebreaker round.

In the meantime, Janowicz won her match 6-7(6), 6-3, 6-1, tying the contest 3-3 and putting all eyes on the tiebreaker between Embree and Burdette.

Burdette took an early 2-0 advantage, but Embree won four-straight points to retake the lead. Her opponent answered with back-to-back points to knot the tiebreaker at 4-4. Embree once again took a two-point advantage and had double championship point with a 6-4 lead, but Burdette was able to muscle her way to another tie at 6-6.

With the home crowd and history against her, Embree forced Burdette into two more errors and watched the ball sail long as she won the third set 6-6 (8-6) and clinched the title for Florida.

The clutch play of Janowicz and Embree extended each of their respective winning streaks; the former has now won 19-consecutive singles matches, while the latter has defeated 23-straight opponents.

The Gators women’s tennis program’s five national titles are more than any other team in school history after previously being tied with men’s golf (four). It is Florida’s second NCAA Championship for the 2010-11 athletic season (men’s track and field).

Order of Finish
Doubles
(45) Embree/Oyen, UF d. Gibbs/Li, SU – 8-3
(37) Hitimana/Mather, UF d. (74) McVeigh/Tan, SU – 8-3* (UF 1-0)
Singles
(3) Barte, SU d. (7) Will, UF – 6-2, 6-4 (UF 1, SU 1)
(18) Gibbs, SU d. (91) Oyen, UF – 6-4, 7-5 (SU 2-1)
(43) Tan, SU d. (42) Mather, UF – 3-6, 6-2, 6-4 (SU 3-1)
(54) Cercone, UF d. Li, SU – 4-6, 6-1, 6-4 (SU 3-2)
(53) Janowicz, UF d. McVeigh, SU – 6-7(6), 6-3, 6-1 (UF 3, SU 3)
(17) Embree, UF d. (22) Burdette, SU – 5-7, 6-3, 7-6(8-6)* (UF 4-3)

2011 NCAA Women’s Tennis All-Tournament Team
Most Outstanding Player: Embree
Singles: Embree, Cercone
Doubles: Embree/Oyen

Photo Credit: University of Florida; Video Credit: NCAA/ESPNU

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Florida women’s tennis defeats Miami 4-1 in Elite Eight, advances to 2011 NCAA Final Four

Advancing to the Final Four for the second-straight season and 21st time in the last 25 years, No. 2 Florida Gators women’s tennis (29-1) won a nail-biter against the No. 7 Miami Hurricanes (21-7), beating them 4-1 in the Elite Eight of the 2011 NCAA Tournament at Taube Tennis Stadium in Stanford, CA on Sunday.

With the No. 2 pairing of sophomore Allie Will and freshman Alex Cercone down 7-5 to Miami’s No. 5 duo, Florida wound up winning the other two doubles matches to take the doubles point. The No. 45 team of sophomore Lauren Embree and freshman Sofie Oyen won their match 8-4, and the pair of sophomore Caroline Hitimana and junior Joanna Mather took their contest 8-5 to clinch the point for the Gators.

No. 53 freshman Olivia Janowicz captured the first singles point (6-4, 6-2) for Florida, but Miami answered when Gabriela Mejia beat No. 91 Oyen 7-6(1), 6-1. No. 7 Will defeated No. 6 Bianca Eichkorn in straight sets (6-2, 6-1) to give the Gators a 3-1 advantage with three matches remaining in the contest.

Two of the final three matches entered in the third set and both were within a game of each other; UF was well behind in the third. No. 54 Cercone wound up finishing first, clinching the victory for Florida with a 2-6, 6-1, 7-5 win. No. 42 Mather led her opponent, but No. 17 Embree was trailing in her match as the day came to a close.

The Gators will participate in the semifinals of the NCAA Tournament on Monday evening; Florida is set to take on No. 6 UCLA (22-5) at 7 p.m. in Stanford.

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Gators tennis in the 2011 NCAA Tournament: Women advance to Elite Eight, men eliminated

The Florida Gators tennis program faced split results at the Taube Tennis Center Stanford, CA. The No. 2 women’s team advanced to the Elite Eight round of the 2011 NCAA Tournament, while the No. 8 men were eliminated during Sweet 16 competition.

The Florida women (28-1) lasted through a nail-biter against the No. 15 Clemson Tigers (20-11), defeating them 4-1 with a number of singles matches close until the end.

The Gators started the afternoon by winning the doubles point. The No. 45 pairing of sophomore Lauren Embree and freshman Sofie Oyen earned an 8-3 victory to start Florida off, and the No. 2 duo of sophomore Allie Will and freshman Alex Cercone took down the No. 6 team of Josipa Bek and Keri Wong 8-6 to clinch the point.

Singles action was even tighter. Clemson took the first point as Oyen was beaten 6-3, 6-3, but UF closed the match out with three-straight victories. No. 17 Embree defeated No. 48 Wong (4-6, 6-1, 6-4), and No. 42 junior Joanna Mather fought back to beat No. 114 Nelly Ciolkowski (0-6, 6-4, 6-3). With the match in her hands, No. 54 Cercone won the hardest fought match, capturing a 6-7 (5), 6-4, 7-6 (4) victory to clinch the win.

The Gators have now won 18-straight matches and are set to face Miami (FL) in Elite Eight action on Sunday, May 22 at 3 p.m.

The Florida men (20-9) were not as fortunate on Thursday, falling 4-2 to the Kentucky Wildcats in the round of 16. Kentucky captured the doubles point to start the match and was led by the No. 19 duo of Brad Cox and Eric Quigley, which defeated UF’s No. 17 pairing of senior Alexandre Lacroix and sophomore Sekou Bangoura, Jr. 8-5.

The Wildcats also took the first singles point as No. 90 Alberto Gonzalez beat No. 118 sophomore Bob van Overbeek 6-1, 6-2, but the Gators responded with No. 7 Lacroix topping No. 6 Quigley 6-2, 6-4. No. 40 Bangoura, Jr. took down Cox 6-4, 62 to tie the match 2-2, but Kentucky won the final two match-ups to prevail.

Though the men’s team is no longer in competition, Lacroix and Bangoura will compete in the 2011 NCAA Individual Championships with singles action beginning Wed., May 25 and doubles action starting Thurs., May 26.

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Gators tennis teams advance to Sweet 16

Sunday was a special day for the Florida Gators tennis program as both the No. 8 men’s and No. 2 women’s teams advanced to the Sweet 16 round of the 2011 NCAA Tournament after sweeping their opponents on a sunny day at Linder Stadium at Ring Tennis Complex in Gainesville, FL.

After a weather delay forced their contest to continue Sunday, the Florida men (20-8) got the day started early and shut out the No. 27 Miami Hurricanes (15-9) 4-0.

The No. 17 duo of senior Alexandre Lacroix and sophomore Sekou Bangoura, Jr. led the doubles teams, winning their match 8-2. Joining them to cinch the doubles point was junior Nassim Slilam and sophomore Billy Federhofer (7-6).

No. 7 Lacroix (6-1, 6-1), No. 89 Slilam (6-2, 6-2) and freshman Spencer Newman (6-0, 6-4) all won their singles matches; Newman’s victory clinched the contest for the Gators. Lacroix’s singles win propelled him to historic status. He is now the all-time overall wins leader in school history with 209 career victories.

The Florida women (27-1) wrapped up the afternoon in similar form, shutting out the South Carolina Gamecocks (14-11) 4-0 behind a strong team performance.

The 45th-ranked team of sophomore Lauren Embree and freshman Sofie Oyen made short work of their opponents, beating them 8-2 for the Gators’ first doubles win. Freshman Olivia Janowicz and junior Joanna Mather followed them with an 8-3 victory, clinching the doubles point for Florida.

No. 7 sophomore Allie Will absolutely trounced No. 44 Anya Morgina of South Carolina, stifling her in straight sets (6-0, 6-0). Helping her complete the sweep for the Gators were No. 42 Mather (6-2, 6-2) and No. 54 freshman Alex Cercone (6-0, 6-3); the latter victory clinched the match.

Florida men’s and women’s tennis will play later this week in Stanford, CA. The men compete on Thursday at 3 p.m., while the women take the court on Friday at 3 p.m.

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Gators tennis wins two SEC titles on Sunday

Easter Sunday was a day of celebration for the Florida Gators tennis program as both the men’s and women’s teams won a 2011 Southeastern Conference Championship after fighting their way through their respective tournaments.

The No. 17 and five-seed men’s team (18-8) defeated the No. 11 and three-seed Kentucky Wildcats (26-8) 4-0 in the tournament final at Linder Stadium at Ring Tennis Complex in Gainesville, FL. The victory is Florida’s fourth men’s tournament victory (1994, 2000, 2005) in seven opportunities.

Senior Alexandre Lacroix, junior Nassim Slilam, sophomore Sekou Bangoura, Jr., sophomore Bob van Overbeek, sophomore Billy Federhofer and freshman Andrew Butz all saw victories on Sunday. The duos of Slilam/Federhofer and van Overbeek/Butz both won their matches; van Overbeek, No. 44 Bangoura and No. 93 Slilam also captured singles victories. No. 8 Lacroix came out of the tournament with Most Valuable Player honors and was named to the All-Tournament Team along with Slilam.

The No. 2 and one-seed women’s team (25-1) won its 17th SEC Tournament title in the 24-years it has existed, defeating the No. 14 and two-seed Tennessee Volunteers (17-4) 4-0 at Barksdale Stadium in Knoxville, TN.

Sophomore Allie Will, junior Joanna Mather, freshmen Alex Cercone and freshman Olivia Janowicz collected victories to fuel the Gators’ shutout. The duos of No. 9 Will/Cercone and Mather/Janowicz won their matches; No. 6 Will, No. 50 Janowicz and No. 51 Cercone were also victorious in singles competition.

Will was named the MVP and, along with Janowicz, picked for the All-Tournament Team.

The victories Sunday mark the 11th and 12th conference titles won by the University of Florida in 2010-11. It is the third time in school history that both programs won the SEC Tournament in the same season (2000, 2005).

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FOUR BITS: tennis wins SEC, gym, Davis, Hill

1 » No. 1 Florida Gators women’s tennis (22-1, 11-0 SEC) shutout the South Carolina Gamecocks (12-9, 4-7 SEC) 7-0 on Saturday to capture the outright 2011 Southeastern Conference Championship for the regular season at Linder Stadium at Ring Tennis Complex in Gainesville, FL. The victory not only won Florida the SEC title and a No. 1 seed (including a bye) in the upcoming 2011 SEC Tournament, it was also the team’s 102nd consecutive regular season victory and 93rd-straight at home. The No. 8 doubles team of sophomore Allie Will and freshman Alex Cercone took down their No. 32-ranked opponents 8-4. No. 7 Will and No. 51 Cercone each won their singles matches, as did No. 20 sophomore Lauren Embree, No. 37 junior Joanna Mather, No. 49 freshman Olivia Janowicz and No. 104 freshman Sofie Oyen. The No. 43 duo of Embree and Oyen also won their doubles match earlier in the day.

2 » No. 5 Gators gymnastics was not as successful over the weekend, failing to advance to the 2011 NCAA Super Six team final by finishing fourth in Session II of the 2011 NCAA Championships semifinals. Florida finished with 196.125 points behind Alabama (197.05), Nebraska (196.85) and Utah (196.20). Fortunately for the Gators, three of the ladies advanced to the NCAA individual event finals on Sunday. Freshman Alaina Johnson will compete in vault, uneven bars and floor exercise; sophomore Marissa King will try her hand at vault and floor exercise; and senior Maranda Smith will participate in the floor exercise. All three were named to the All-American First Team.

3 » Florida 2012 running back commitment Mike Davis (Stone Mountain, GA) won a Most Valuable Player award for his group at the Nike Football Training Camp in Athens, GA on Friday. “Mike did some incredible things,” Jake Campbell, running backs coach at the camp, told ESPN. “He has great lateral movement and change of direction. He’s terrific in the open field. He’s a true running back where things come so natural to him. He’s versatile and has soft hands. He’s also a strong ball carrier who really seems to understand the position.”

4 » Gators safety Will Hill, waiting to find out who will take a chance on him in the 2011 NFL Draft, participated in a local prospect day for the New York Giants on Thursday. The Newark Star-Ledger’s Mike Garafolo says Hill “has the Giants intrigued” to the point that they have “look[ed] into the personal side of things” regarding his character.

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TWO BITS: Baseball falls, tennis defeats FSU

1 » While Florida Gators fans in Gainesville, FL were busy cheering on the No. 14 basketball team to their first Southeastern Conference regular season title since 2007, those in Tampa, FL were in agony watching No. 5 Florida State Seminoles baseball (8-0) put together a five-run third inning and hold on to defeat No. 1 Florida (7-1) 5-3 on Tuesday. Taking part in the Florida Four event at George M. Steinbrenner Field, the two teams renewed their rivalry with FSU once again coming out on top. UF junior right-handed pitcher Tommy Toledo (0-1) was brushed off the mound quickly after giving up three earned runs on two hits and three walks in 2.1 innings. Junior left-handed pitcher Alex Panteliodis came in to stop the bleeding with one out in the third but coughed up four hits and a walk to allow Florida State to complete their impressive rally.

The Gators added a single run in the bottom of the third as junior right fielder Preston Tucker (2-4, RBI, R) singled home freshman third baseman Zack Powers (1-4, R) and posted two more in the sixth on a rally with a RBI each from sophomore center fielder Kamm Washington (1-3, RBI, BB) and junior left fielder Daniel Pigott (1-4, RBI). Scott Sitz (2-0) earned the win for the Seminoles, and closer Mike McGee (S1) got the save.

2 » Earlier in the day, No. 1 Florida women’s tennis (11-1) spanked No. 22 Florida State 6-1 on the road at Scott Speicher Tennis Center in Tallahassee, FL. The No. 1 doubles pairing of sophomore Allie Will and freshman Alex Cercone led the way for the Gators with an 8-1 victory. Florida’s two other duos – No. 58 freshman Olivia Janowicz/junior Joanna Mather and No. 75 sophomores Lauren Embree/Caroline Hitimana were also victorious. No. 7 Will fell in singles competition, but No. 26 Embree, No. 35 Cercone, No. 34 Janowicz, No. 125 Hitimana and freshman Sofie Oyen all won their individual matches.

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FOUR BITS: swimming, gymnastics, tennis win

1 » The third day of the 2011 Southeastern Conference Swimming Championships, held at the Stephen C. O’Connell Center in Gainesville, FL, was just as eventful for the Florida Gators as the previous two. Senior Conor Dwyer, who had already set three SEC records combined, broke yet another on Friday by swimming the 400-yard individual medley in 3:37.75. Freshman Elizabeth Beisel matched his accomplishment on the women’s side, also breaking the SEC record in the individual medley with a time of 4:00.35. Both competitors, in addition to now owning the top SEC mark in the event, broke the pool and school records in the event. Though both teams are performing well, neither leads their gender’s team category. Saturday is the final day of competition.

2 » Performing in their home finale Friday, No. 1 Florida gymnastics (8-0, 5-0 SEC) remained unbeaten by defeating the No. 22 Auburn Tigers (2-5, 2-4 SEC) 196.850-194.950. The Gators once again swept the event titles with sophomore Marissa King winning the vault (9.95), senior Maranda Smith taking the floor exercise (9.90), freshman Mackenzie Caquatto conquering the uneven bars (9.90) and both Caquatto and freshman Ashanée Dickerson winning the balance beam (9.875).

3 » Competing in the round of 16 at the 2011 ITA National Team Indoor Championships Friday, No. 2 Florida women’s tennis (8-0) defeated the No. 9 Miami Hurricanes (5-1) 4-1. No. 7 sophomore Allie Will, No. 19 junior Joanna Mather and No. 31 freshman Olivia Janowicz all won their singles matches with the No. 30 duo of sophomore Lauren Embree and Mather also taking home a doubles win. The No. 1 doubles pairing of Will and freshman Sofie Oyen did not finish their doubles match (which they led 7-3); No. 36 Embree and No. 40 freshman Alex Cercone were tied in their respective singles matches but also did not finish.

4 » Also victorious in the round of 16 at the ITA Team Indoor Championships on Friday was No. 10 Gators men’s tennis (7-1), which defeated the No. 7 Stanford Cardinal 4-3 and gave head coach Andy Jackson his 400th career victory. Though the No. 15 duo of senior Alexandre Lacroix and junior Nasslim Slilam fell to their No. 11-ranked opponents, No. 9 Lacroix’s three-set 7-5, 4-6, 6-3 victory over No. 7 Bradley Klahn, the defending NCAA singles champion, clinched the match for Florida. Slilam also lost his singles match, but No. 43 sophomore Sekou Bangoura, Jr. was victorious both on his own and when paired up with freshman Andrew Butz. The Gators will advance to the quarterfinals for the second-straight year.

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