Lauren Embree prepared to move on after bitter conclusion to her outstanding Florida career

It took her a few days, but Lauren Embree found her smile again.

The jovial, outgoing and exceedingly accomplished star of the Florida Gators women’s tennis team faced the toughest stretch of her playing career one week ago while being uncharacteristically upset in a pair of singles matches within a three-day span. Her college career, which she thought could end with a third team national title and perhaps even a singles championship, came to screeching halt sooner than she, her family, teammates or coaches could ever have expected.

Entering a 2013 NCAA Tournament semifinal round showdown with Stanford on May 20, Embree had not lost as a singles competitor in dual match play. The No. 1 player in the country was 20-0 on the season, 11-0 against top 25-ranked opponents.

But none of that mattered when she lined up across from No. 13 Nicole Gibbs, who had Embree’s number from the get-go. Gibbs thwarted her 6-0, 6-1, not only earning a huge upset victory over arguably the best player in the country but also putting Florida’s season on the brink in the process.

The rest of the Gators fought hard but ultimately lost, dropping the match 4-3 to the Cardinal and getting knocked out before the finals for the first time since 2009.

Embree was understandably devastated yet had no choice but to regroup quickly as she was also competing in NCAA singles action two days later. She never could have guessed what would happen next.

Matched up against No. 21 Jacqueline Cako from Arizona State, Embree put up a better fight than she did two days earlier but was still defeated 6-3, 6-2 despite having numerous opportunities to make a run in the second set.

After a career that earned her the well-deserved nickname “Ms. Clutch,” her most recent outings left her feeling like she was anything but.

“Obviously those were not good performances,” Embree said in a conversation with OGGOA on Tuesday. “It was heartbreaking, and it’s definitely a feeling that I had my freshman year in the finals [loss]. You don’t want to ever feel like that, but it’s a part of sports and it happens.

“Starting with the [loss in dual match play] and then having to play individuals, kind of regroup and try to get my mind clear, it was obviously not the way I wanted to go out and end my college career.”

Continue Reading » Lauren Embree prepared to move on after bitter conclusion to her outstanding Florida career

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Three-peat thwarted: Stanford upsets Florida women’s tennis 4-3 in NCAA Tournament semifinal

No. 1 Florida Gators women’s tennis entered the 2013 NCAA Tournament hoping to achieve the second national championship three-peat in school history. Instead, Florida was dealt a stinging 4-3 defeat by the No. 12 Stanford Cardinal in the semifinals of the event, sending the Gators home from Champaign, IL a day early.

Stanford, the last team to beat Florida in NCAA play when it topped UF for the 2010 national title, snapped the Gators’ 16-match NCAA Tournament winning streak on Monday by outworking the favorites in doubles play and singles action. UF was participating in its fourth-straight NCAA Tournament semifinal and looking to advance to the event’s finals for the fourth consecutive season.

Florida’s year-long struggles in doubles were a factor as the teams of No. 11 senior Lauren Embree/junior Sofie Oyen and junior Alex Cercone/senior Caroline Hitimana both dropped their matches 8-3. It was the 10th time this season that the Gators lost the doubles point and faced an early 1-0 deficit.

The Cardinal, which fell to UF 4-2 in Gainesville, FL on Feb. 24, also won the doubles point that day, but the home team came back and won four singles matches.

Florida (26-3) and Stanford (21-4) split the first sets, but the Cardinal quickly increased their lead substantially by pulling off two relatively easy singles victories.

Continue Reading » Three-peat thwarted: Stanford upsets Florida women’s tennis 4-3 in NCAA Tournament semifinal

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FOUR BITS: track, tennis, lacrosse, softball

1 » Neither the top-ranked men nor the third-ranked women were able to bring home a team title in the 2013 Southeastern Conference Outdoor Championship for the Florida Gators, but the track & field program did conclude the four-day event with five individual titles. Sophomore Kyle Strawn started things off on Thursday by winning the SEC title in the men’s hammer throw; his championship toss went 66.90m/219-6 and also marked a personal best. Florida added a second individual SEC crown on Friday when redshirt freshman Jimmy Clark gutted out a tough 10,000 meters in 29:44.54 to win the Gators’ first title in the event since 1987. Though Florida went title-less on Saturday, the Gators added three on Sunday to close the event. UF swept the triple jump with senior Omar Craddock (16.46m/54-0) and sophomore Ciarra Brewer (13.85m/45-5.25) defending their 2012 titles by winning the men’s and women’s championships, respectively. Freshman Marija Vucenovic also got in on the fun by winning the women’s javelin with a throw of 51.30m/168-4.

The Florida men (123.00) finished second to Arkansas (152.50), while the UF women (106.00) placed fourth. The Gators were hoping to win the athletic program’s ninth SEC team title of the season but must instead settle for a school record-tying eight as the league’s 2012-13 season has officially come to a close.

2 » No. 1 Florida women’s tennis began competing in the 2013 NCAA Tournament over the weekend and swept both of its opponents, defeating the Marist Red Foxes and Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets 4-0 on Saturday and Sunday, respectively. The Gators ran through the Red Foxes without dropping a single game, winning both doubles matches 8-0 and all three singles contests 6-0, 6-0. Georgia Tech was a tougher out for Florida but still went down rather easily as UF won the doubles point with 8-6 and 8-2 victories and took singles in short order. No. 1 senior Lauren Embree beat No. 98 Elizabeth Kilborn 6-0, 6-0 in her last home match, and No. 116 senior Caroline Hitimana led 6-1, 3-3 in her match but did not finish; both players were involved in victories that led to the doubles point. Embree received a standing ovation after he victory; she and Hitimana leave UF never having lost a team match (55-0) at Linder Stadium at Ring Tennis Complex. Action continues for Florida on Friday when it takes on Duke in a round of 16 match in Urbania, IL.

Read two more Gators news BITS (with an extra)…after the break!
Continue Reading » FOUR BITS: track, tennis, lacrosse, softball

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Florida women’s tennis sweeps Georgia to capture fourth-straight SEC Tournament Championship

WEEKEND: Gymnastics wins first NCAA title | Lacrosse routs Northwestern

The historic weekend for Florida Gators women’s athletics continued on Sunday when the second-ranked tennis team brought home the 2013 Southeastern Conference Tournament Championship, winning the event for the fourth-straight season by taking down the Georgia Bulldogs 4-0 in Starkville, MS.

The Gators (22-2) have now swept the SEC regular season and tournament championships in each of the last four years, capturing 10 of the last 13 (and 18 of the last 23) SEC Tournament titles.

Florida seniors Lauren Embree and Caroline Hitimana, which became the first players to win a regular-season SEC title in each of their four years with the program, doubled-up on their historic accomplishments and are now a perfect 8-0 in league championship opportunities.

Though the Gators have struggled in doubles action this season, Florida took an early 1-0 lead by winning the point over the accomplished Bulldogs (21-3). The freshman duo of Danielle Collins and Brianna Morgan won 8-3 on court three, putting the onus on the No. 22 team of Embree and junior Sofie Oyen to come through in the clutch on court one. Embree and Oyen fought to the finish and won a tiebreak over the No. 1 duo of Kate Fuller and Silvia Garcia to spot Florida the early advantage.

Though UGA gave a valiant effort in singles action, UF’s talent simply overwhelmed its long-time SEC East rivals.

Continue Reading » Florida women’s tennis sweeps Georgia to capture fourth-straight SEC Tournament Championship

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UF women’s tennis wins fourth-straight SEC title

No. 2 Florida Gators women’s tennis completed a four-peat for the fourth time in program history on Sunday by capturing a share of the 2013 Southeastern Conference Championship with a 4-1 victory against the No. 18 Vanderbilt Commodores on the road in Nashville, TN.

The Gators (19-2, 11-1 SEC) picked up their fourth SEC regular-season title in as many seasons and have now won seven in the last eight years. UF has captured 27 league titles in the 34 years that the SEC has sanctioned women’s tennis as a conference sport, making it the most successful women’s team in any sport in league history.

Florida is splitting the title three ways with No. 3 Texas A&M and No. 4 Georgia. UF fell 4-3 to TAMU but beat UGA 4-1. The Bulldogs took down the Aggies 4-2.

As has been a habit for the Gators this season, Florida started off Sunday’s contest in a 1-0 hole after dropping the doubles point to Vanderbilt (14-10, 7-6 SEC).

The Gators roared back in singles competition, however, winning four-straight matches to clinch the victory and a share of the title.

Junior No. 125 Olivia Janowicz finished first with a 7-5, 6-1 win. Junior No. 57 Alex Cercone soon followed with a 6-1, 6-3 victory over No. 83 Georgina Sellyn. Senior No. 1 Laureen Embree made quick work of No. 59 Lauren Mira 6-2, 6-1, and junior No. 13 Sofie Oyen closed things out with a hard-fought 3-6, 6-3, 6-4 win.

Embree and senior Caroline Hitimana became the first classmates to win an SEC regular-season title in each of their four years at Florida.

Following Sunday’s contest, the Gators were awarded the No. 3 seed in the 2013 SEC Tournament, which is set to begin on Wednesday, after a three-way tie forced conference officials to conduct a drawing. Florida will have consecutive byes before participating in its first match on Friday at 6 p.m.

UF and TAMU are set up to potentially go head-to-head in the semifinals as UGA picked up the event’s No. 1 overall seed.

The Gators are also looking to capture their fourth-straight SEC Tournament title.

Florida’s title win on Sunday marked the athletic program’s seventh league regular-season championship of the 2012-13 athletic season.

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SIX BITS: top 25, tennis, Muschamp, PIT, Tebow

1 » Despite ending their 2013 NCAA Tournament run in the Elite Eight for the third-straight year, Florida Gators basketball was placed at No. 9 in the final USA Today Coaches’ Top 25 poll of the 2012-13 season. Florida was not the only Elite Eight team to fall outside the top eight of the poll, however, as Marquette checked in at No. 11 in the final rankings. Indiana (Sweet 16 loss to Syracuse) and Kansas (Sweet 16 loss to Michigan) took the two other spots in the top eight. The Gators also checked in at No. 9 and No. 10 in 2011-12 and 2010-11, respectively, after losing in the Elite Eight. Florida will likely enter the 2013-14 campaign ranked in the preseason top-10.

2 » No. 2 Gators women’s tennis (17-2, 10-1 SEC) ran through its competition over the weekend, extending their winning streaks to 10 consecutive team matches and 30-straight individual matches. Florida swept the Ole Miss Rebels (10-10, 4-6 SEC) and Mississippi State Bulldogs (7-12, 1-10 SEC) in a pair of home showdowns over the weekend at Linder Stadium at Ring Tennis Complex in Gainesville, FL. The Gators won all 11 matches and had the opportunity to celebrate Senior Day against the Bulldogs on Sunday. Seniors No. 1 Lauren Embree and No. 125 Caroline Hitimana were each unable to finish their singles matches due to Florida registering a quick 4-0 victory but both won their doubles contests. The No. 20 duo of Embree and junior Sofie Oyen picked up an 8-2 win, while Hitimana and junior Alex Cercone won 8-0.

On Monday, head coach Roland Thornqvist praised Embree at his press conference, making note of her incredible career and tremendous work ethic. “You want to know why Lauren Embree is the best college player to ever play the game?” he asked rhetorically. “It was Monday morning at 8:30, and after a weekend full of matches and practices, she runs to the courts, hits serves for 30 minutes, then I show up and we go at it [on the court] for an hour and 15 minutes. By 10:00, she’s done with two workouts already while the rest of tennis America is still sleeping. That’s why we’re good and that’s why she’s good. She sets the tone, the bar is high, and I think everybody feeds off of it. We’ve just been blessed to have that for four years. Frankly, it’s just amazing.” The Gators women’s tennis program is hoping to win its third-straight national title.

Read four more BITS of Florida Gators news…after the break!
Continue Reading » SIX BITS: top 25, tennis, Muschamp, PIT, Tebow

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Florida Gators women’s tennis wins second-straight national title with 4-0 sweep of UCLA

No. 2 Florida Gators (27-1) women’s tennis became just the second program in the history of the sport to win back-to-back national championships, capturing the program’s second-straight title with a 4-0 sweep of the No. 1 UCLA Bruins (26-3) in the finals of the 2012 NCAA Tournament on Tuesday at Dan Magill Tennis Complex in Athens, GA.

Florida ended their season on a 22-match winning streak, sweeping four of the five opponents they faced on their way to the program’s sixth national title. The Gators were playing for the NCAA Championship for the third-straight year (lost to Stanford in 2010) and 13th time in school history.

No. 1 junior Allie Will/sophomore Sofie Oyen wasted little time getting Florida on the board in doubles action, dominating No. 6 Robin Anderson/Skylar Morton from start to finish in an 8-2 win.

The Gators found themselves down early in the other two doubles matches with No. 22 junior Lauren Embree/senior Joanna Mather trailing No. 9 Pamela Montez/Courtney Dolehide and the team of sophomore Alex Cercone/junior Caroline Hitimana falling behind McCall Jones/Carling Seguso.

Florida slowly but surely fought their way back in both matches with Cercone/Hitimana eventually defeating Jones/Seguso 8-5 and Embree/Mather leading Montez/Dolehide 6-5 when the doubles point was clinched for the Gators to give UF an early 1-0 lead.

No. 79 Cercone had a much easier time in her singles match, quickly defeating No. 119 Chanelle Van Nguyen in straight sets (6-2, 6-0) to extend Florida’s lead to 2-0 with five matches still in action. No. 61 Oyen then registered a clean victory over No. 124 Morton, beating the freshman 6-3, 6-2 to pull the Gators within one match of the title.

It was No. 9 Embree who was once again tasked with closing out the national championship for Florida after winning the title in a grueling three-set tiebreaker one year ago. She did not waste much time doing just that, taking down No. 98 Jones 6-4, 6-0 to clinch the national championship for the Gators.

Following the match, Embree was awarded the NCAA Tournament’s Most Outstanding Player award for the second-straight year. She was also named to the All-Tournament team along with Cercone at the two and four spots for singles, respectively.

“It’s amazing. I still can’t really believe that just happened again that we went back-to-back. It’s just so exciting; I’m so proud of my teammates,” Embree said. “I said last year was a dream come true, but it’s a dream come true again. Our team has worked so hard, and I just feel like we played so well this week. I’m so proud of them.”

No. 1 Will trailed No. 4 Anderson 4-6, 2-5 at the time of completion. No. 21 Mather was slightly up on No. 73 Montez 3-6, 6-3, 1-0, and sophomore Olivia Janowicz was nearly even with Seguso 6-7, 5-2 when the title was clinched.

Florida women’s tennis’ victory Tuesday marks the school’s 28th overall national championship and 19th since athletic director Jeremy Foley took over. It was also head coach Roland Thornqvist‘s third national title since being hired in 2002.

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No. 2 Florida women’s tennis tops No. 3 Duke 4-3, advances to third-straight NCAA Championship

No. 2 Florida Gators women’s tennis will play for the national championship for the third-straight year after defeating the No. 4 Duke Blue Devils in the Final Four of the 2012 NCAA Tournament at the Dan Magill Tennis Complex in Athens, GA.

Florida (26-1) extended their winning streak to 21 matches in their 4-3 defeat of Duke (29-3), advancing to the finals of the tournament for the third year in a row and receiving an opportunity to defend their 2011 national title. The Blue Devils were on an 18-match winning streak of their own that the Gators ended on Monday.

UF has never won back-to-back national championships but will look to make team history while appearing in the program’s 13th national title game.

The nation’s No. 1 pairing, junior Allie Will/sophomore Sofie Oyen, opened doubles action with an 8-3 win and was forced watch as their teammates fought to clinch the point. Sophomore Alex Cercone/junior Caroline Hitimana trailed most of their match but held off Duke and relieved the pressure on Florida’s second-best pairing.

That duo, No. 22-ranked junior Lauren Embree/senior Joanna Mather, coughed up a substantial lead and allowed the Blue Devils to pull even with them at 7-7. Embree and Mather were soon down 8-7 and fighting for their lives but evened the match 8-8 and dominated the tiebreak round to clinch the doubles point for the Gators. Cercone and Hitimana dropped their match 8-4 in time with Embree/Mather pulling out the victory.

Florida lost five of their six first sets in singles action but was still able to increase their lead over Duke to 2-0 after No. 9 Embree built off her opening set victory and won her singles match 6-4, 6-1. The Gators then jumped ahead 3-0 when No. 21 Mather came from behind to take her match 2-6, 6-2, 6-0.

No. 61 Oyen and No. 79 Cercone both took their second sets after falling behind early, giving the Gators four opportunities to notch the match-winning points. The first of those chances was lost shortly after when sophomore Olivia Janowicz fell 1-6, 6-4, 3-6 and allowed the Blue Devils to reduce their deficit to 3-1.

No. 1 Will struggled all match long with No. 2 Beatrice Capra. The 2012 ACC Player and Freshman of the Year eventually upset her 4-6, 4-6 in straight sets and brought Duke within two points with two matches left to play.

Oyen did her best to hold off her opponent but was unable to do so for long, losing 3-6, 7-5, 2-6 and putting both teams’ title hopes in the hands of Cercone and No. 66 Mary Clayton, two extremely well-matched players.

The competitors went back-and-forth all afternoon with Clayton claiming the first set and forcing Cercone to come from behind if she wanted to pull out a victory. In the end Cercone did just that, starting with an 0-2 deficit in the third set before outscoring Clayton 6-1 over the final seven games to pick up a 5-7, 6-4, 6-3 win and send Florida to the championship game.

UF will face No. 1 UCLA for the 2012 NCAA Championship on Tuesday at 1 p.m. The Gators will be participating in their 13th NCAA Tournament final in the last 25 years and will be looking to win the team’s sixth national title.

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