Florida women advance in NCAAs, men eliminated

Action continued in the 2012 NCAA Tournament on Thursday with the Florida Gators combining to field six singles competitors and three doubles teams.

Women
No. 1 Allie Will (junior) def. No. 19 Danielle Lao (USC) – 6-4, 6-4
No. 9 Lauren Embree (junior) def. No. 28 Cristina Stancu (Maryland) – 6-2, 6-2
No. 3 Nicole Gibs (Stanford) def. No. 21 Joanna Mather (senior) – 3-6, 6-4, 6-3
No. 26 Sabrina Santamaria (USC) def. No. 61 Sofie Oyen (sophomore) – 6-3, 6-0

No. 13 Burgic/Secerbegovic (Baylor) def. No. 1 Will/Oyen – 7-5, 6-2
No. 22 Embree/Mather def. No. 28 Abu Mushrefova/Hamilton (Northwestern) – 6-0, 6-1

Men
No. 50 Louis Cant (Miss. St.) def. No. 42 Bob van Overbeek (junior) – 4-6, 7-6(6), 6-1
No. 1 Steve Johnson (USC) def. No. 53 Nassim Slilam (senior) – 6-3, 6-2

No. 63 Baroz/Heugas (VCU) def. No. 14 Slilam/Billy Federhofer – 5-7, 7-5, 6-1

Two of four Gators women singles competitors and one of Florida’s doubles pairing advanced to the next round of the individual championships on Friday. All will be competing in the round of 16 as the doubles tournament began with just 32 teams.

The Florida women have won four singles and four doubles NCAA Individual Championships with the last ones coming in 1996 (Jill Craybas) and 2001 (Whitney Lalho/Lehnoff), respectively. The Gators remain the only program in the history of women’s collegiate tennis to sweep the team, singles and doubles titles in the same season, accomplishing that feat in 1996.

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Gators singles go 6-1 in first round Wednesday

Seven Florida Gators tennis players competed in 2012 NCAA Tournament first round action on Wednesday, playing as individuals for the first time since January.

Women
No. 1 Allie Will (junior) def. No. 34 Shannon Mathews (Notre Dame) – 7-6(5), 6-3
No. 9 Lauren Embree (junior) def. No. 49 Anastasia Erofeeva (Tulsa) – 6-0, 6-3
No. 21 Joanna Mather (senior) def. No. 59 Hanna Mar (Duke) – 7-5, 6-4
No. 61 Sofie Oyen (sophomore) def. No. 44 Ecaterina Vasenina (USF) – 6-4, 6-2

Men
No. 42 Bob van Overbeek (junior) def. No. 8 Sebastian Fanselow (Pepp.) – 6-3, 6-4
No. 47 Luka Somen (Virginia Tech) def. No. 48 Tripper Carleton (junior) – 6-2, 6-0
No. 53 Nassim Slilam (senior) def. No. 118 Matija Pecotic (Princeton) – 6-4, 6-4

Six players advanced to second-round action in the 2012 NCAA Individual Championships on Thursday, which coincides with the first round of the doubles competition consisting of 32 teams.

No. 1 Will/Oyen and No. 22 Embree/Mather will both compete for the women, while No. 14 Slilam/junior Billy Federhofer will be the sole team in action on the men’s side.

The Florida women have won four singles and four doubles NCAA Individual Championships with the last ones coming in 1996 (Jill Craybas) and 2001 (Whitney Lalho/Lehnoff), respectively. The Gators men have won two NCAA singles titles (1999 – Jeff Morrison) and one doubles title (1993 – David Blair/Mark Merklein) in team history.

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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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Florida women’s tennis advances to third-straight NCAA Final Four with 4-0 sweep of Miami

No. 2 Florida Gators women’s tennis defeated the No. 11 Miami Hurricanes 4-0 in the Elite Eight round of the 2012 NCAA Tournament on Saturday to advance to the Final Four for the third-straight season and 22nd time in program history.

Florida (25-1) extended their winning streak to 20 matches as they beat Miami (21-5) in the NCAA Tournament for the third year in a row, moving on to the Final Four following each victory. The Gators have not allowed any of their opponents to register a single point in this year’s event, improving to 18-0 after previously sweeping South Carolina State (4-0), No. 31 Washington State (6-0) and No. 16 Michigan (4-0).

The No. 22 duo of junior Lauren Embree and senior Joanna Mather lost their doubles match 8-4, but Florida’s other pairings – No. 1 junior Allie Will/sophomore Sofie Oyen (8-3) and sophomore Alex Cercone/junior Caroline Hitimana (8-6) – pulled off victories to clinch the doubles point for the Gators.

It took Cercone/Hitimana 1:46 to cap the point for UF as the duo needed 18 points to win the second-to-last game of their match and take a 7-6 lead.

Once the doubles point was out of the way, Florida cruised in singles competition.

No. 79 Cercone (6-2, 6-2), sophomore Olivia Janowicz (6-3, 6-2) and No. 21 Mather (6-2, 6-4) each won their matches in straight sets to send the Gators to a 4-0 victory. No. 1 Will (6-3, 4-2), No. 9 Embree (7-6[2], 1-3) and No. 61 Oyen (6-3, 5-3) were all leading but did not finish their respective matches.

Florida moves on to face No. 3 Duke, riding an 18-match winning streak of their own, in Final Four action on Monday at 1 p.m. The winner will take on either No. 1 UCLA or No. 5 USC for the national title on Tuesday at 1 p.m.

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SIX BITS: Noah, Pouncey, Cooper, Zunino, Embree

1 » Like any good player, Chicago Bulls center Joakim Noah plans to work extensively on his game over the summer. In order to do just that, Noah will enlist the help of Hall of Famer, six-time Most Valuable Player and six-time NBA Champion Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, the player said Wednesday while on a visit at a high school in Chicago, according to RealGM.com. Abdul-Jabbar has worked with a number of prominent NBA big men over the last few years so it is certainly no surprise that Noah would seek his advice. It will be one of the many things he plans on doing this summer as he is also scheduled to play for the French Men’s National Team in the 2012 London Olympics and work with trainers to improve his strength and conditioning heading into the 2012-13 season.

2 » Former Florida Gators center Mike Pouncey was a featured guest on NFL Network this Thursday where he discussed new Miami Dolphins head coach Joe Philbin, the team’s quarterback competition and the Dolphins’ prospects heading into the 2012 season. He also spoke highly about new Pittsburgh Steelers running back Chris Rainey when asked if there were any more Pouncey brothers on the back burner who could make an impact in the NFL in the future. “No, but we got a step brother in Chris Rainey who the Steelers selected in the fifth round. We’re hoping for big things out of him up there this year. He’s a great football player, and I think the Steelers made a great selection,” he said.

3 » Another year older, another year wiser and hopefully another year more polished, wide receiver Riley Cooper hopes he can make a major impact for the Philadelphia Eagles this season. “I’ve only had like [five] starts the whole time I’ve been here. It’s just game experience. The more game experience you get the better you get,” he told the team’s website. He also hopes that his first real offseason with the coaching staff will help him make major strides on the field. “I haven’t had an offseason, so it’s helping out a lot. I get one-on-one work with [senior offensive assistant/wide receivers coach David] Culley. We’re doing a lot of routes, getting a lot of work in. It’s benefiting me a lot,” Cooper said. “There’s a bunch of things I want to get better at and that’s what the offseason does.”

4 » ESPN’s baseball scouts are not the only ones heaping praise on Gators junior catcher Mike Zunino. Just like the Worldwide Leader, MLB.com has Zunino listed as their No. 3 overall player available in the 2012 MLB Draft and notes that he is both the best bat and best player currently playing college baseball. Just two days after being named a semifinalist for the 2012 Johnny Bench Award, Zunino learned that he is also a semifinalist for the 2012 Dick Howser Trophy, presented annually to the national college baseball player of the year. Considered the “Heisman Trophy” of college baseball, the Howser Trophy has never been won by a Florida baseball player. Zunino is one of 35 semifinalists for the award.

5 » ESPNW.com continues its countdown of the top 40 female athletes of the past 40 years following the adoption of Title IX and has added two more former Gators to their list. Following striker Abby Wambach (No. 33), come swimmers Tracy Caulkins (No. 25) and Dara Torres (No. 23). Caulkins is a three-time Olympic gold medalist and 16-time NCAA Champion, while Torres is a 12-time Olympic medalist (four golds) and three-time NCAA Champion. Torres is also the first United States swimmer to compete in five separate Olympics and is also the oldest swimmer to ever compete for the U.S. There are 20 spots still unannounced as part of ESPNW‘s countdown so there is an opportunity for additional former Florida student-athletes to find a spot on the list.

6 » Gators junior tennis player Lauren Embree, the ninth-ranked woman in the world according to ITA, has been writing a blog for the USTA over the last week. In her latest entry, submitted following Florida’s big round of 16 win over Michigan on Thursday, Embree talks about waiting out a rain delay, pulling out a come-from-behind doubles victory and advancing in the 2012 NCAA Tournament. “I think everyone was really anxious and excited to get things going, and most of us got out to really good starts, which helped the momentum of the team,” she wrote. “I guess it’s good we have the day off [Friday] since we have had such a long night. Our team is also so thankful we have fans that stay up and cheer for us. They really helped us pull through tonight, and we could not have done it without them!”

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Florida women’s tennis sweeps Michigan 4-0

No. 2 Florida Gators women’s tennis (24-1) advanced to the Elite Eight of the 2012 NCAA Tournament with a 4-0 victory over the No. 15 Michigan Wolverines (21-8) on Thursday at the Dan Magill Tennis Complex in Athens, GA.

Florida improved to 26-3 all-time in round of 16 matches and is advancing to the Elite Eight for the third-straight year, seventh time in the last eight seasons and 26th time in team history. UF has swept all three opponents they have faced in the NCAA Tournament, amassing a combined 14-0 record so far in this year’s event.

The Gators started by coming from behind to clinch the doubles point. The No. 1 duo in the country – Florida’s junior Allie Will and sophomore Sofie Oyen – uncharacteristically fell 8-5, but the team of sophomore Alex Cercone and junior Caroline Hitimana picked up the slack with an 8-2 win.

Behind two games in the third doubles match, the No. 22 pairing of junior Lauren Embree and senior Joanna Mather came through in the clutch by winning four-straight games to turn a 5-7 deficit into a 9-7 victory and win the doubles point for Florida.

Things were much easier for the Gators in singles action as No. 9 Embree (6-4, 6-1), No. 61 Oyen (6-1, 6-3) and sophomore Olivia Janowicz (6-1, 6-3) each closed out their opponents almost simultaneously. No. 1 Will (6-3, 4-3) and No. 79 Cercone (6-1, 5-1) were both leading when their matches were halted.

Florida will remain in Athens for the rest of the tournament as they look to defend their 2011 NCAA Championship. The Gators have won 19 consecutive matches and will take on No. 10 Miami on Saturday at 4 p.m. for the opportunity to advance to their third-straight Final Four. It is the third consecutive year that Florida and Miami will go head-to-head in NCAA quarterfinals action.

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SIX BITS: baseball, tennis, Haden, Davis, Calathes

1 » No. 5 Florida Gators baseball (37-14, 15-11 SEC) stalled in a big way on Saturday, getting shut out for the second time this season in a 2-0 loss to the No. 25 Mississippi State Bulldogs (31-19, 13-13 SEC) at McKethan Stadium in Gainesville, FL. A late scratch with a hamstring injury, junior left-hander Brian Johnson was replaced by sophomore right-hander Jonathon Crawford, who did an admirable job as a spot starter. Crawford (4-2, 4 H, 2 ER, 2 BB, HBP, 3 K) gave up single runs in the first and fifth but received no help whatsoever from Florida’s bats in terms of production or run support. The Gators combined to register just three hits on the evening with the first five batters combining to go 0/19 with one walk and three strikeouts.

2 » No. 2 Florida women’s tennis (23-1) registered yet another shutout in the 2012 NCAA Tournament, defeating the No. 31 Washington State Cougars (19-7) and advancing to the round of 16 for the eighth consecutive season. The Gators topped the Cougars 6-0 (shutouts are normally end at 4-0 but three matches finished simultaneously) and combined to go 76-23 in individual games in the seven matches that were completed. The No. 1 pairing of junior Allie Will and sophomore Sofie Oyen registered an 8-1 victory, while the No. 22 duo of junior Lauren Embree and senior Joanna Mather won 8-2 to clinch the doubles point. No. 1 Will (6-3, 6-1), No. 9 Embree (6-2, 6-3), No. 21 Mather (6-3, 6-2), No. 61 Oyen (6-4, 6-0) and No. 79 sophomore Alex Cercone (6-0, 6-2) all won their singles matches as well. UF will take on Michigan on Thursday at 7 p.m. for the opportunity to advance to the quarterfinals.

3 » No. 12 Florida men’s tennis (15-9) began competing in their version of the 2012 NCAA Tournament on Saturday and started as hot as their female counterparts did with a 4-0 sweep of the Navy Midshipmen (18-9). The Gators won the doubles point (8-4; 8-3) and were led by their ranked players in singles action. No. 42 junior Bob van Overbeek (6-1, 6-0), No. 53 senior Nassim Slilam (6-0, 6-0) and sophomore Florent Diep (6-0, 6-0) were victorious in their individual matches as No. 48 junior Tripper Carleton and No. 66 sophomore Spencer Newman also lead at the time the contest was stopped. Florida will face Harvard in second-round action on Sunday for the chance to move on to the round of 16.

4 » A high school student in Independence, OH needed a prom date after the one she was scheduled to go with bailed at the last minute. Her response? Tweet Cleveland Browns cornerback Joe Haden to see if he will accompany her to one of the biggest events in her young life. To Joyce Grendel’s surprise, Haden accepted her invitation and picked her up Friday afternoon in a white Lamborghini to give her a night that she will undobutedly never forget. Haden told FOX 8 in Cleveland, OH that he never attended his senior prom (because he enrolled early at UF) and was just as nervous as his date. “I [was] nervous, too,” he said. “We were taking pictures with me and her family. I feel this is very legit, like I was getting ready, ‘Does this look cool?’ when I’m getting ready. I feel like I’m very legit. This is my prom, too.” This is not the first time Haden has gone above and beyond to put a smile on the face of one of his fans, which begs just one question: How totally awesome is Joe Haden?

5 » Former Gators linebacker Andra Davis never finished his degree at UF but 10 years later can now call himself a college graduate. Davis completed his bachelor’s degree in social sciences this semester and officially graduated from UNLV on Saturday, achieving a lifelong dream and providing a great lesson to his children. “Stay in school, because academics are one of the most important things in life,” he said, according to the Las Vegas Sun. “It’s easy for me to tell [my children] you need to do this or do that, but if I didn’t finish, they could have been like, ‘Daddy, you didn’t finish school and you’re successful.’” Davis is currently a free agent after spending the last two years playing for the Buffalo Bills and is unlikely to be re-signed by the team. His NFL career may very well be done which is another reason why getting his college degree was so important at this time in his life. “It was like, ‘OK, well, I need to have something to fall back on in case football doesn’t work out,” Davis said. “When I was younger, my first few years, I used to think I was invincible. As you get older, you start to see your skills diminishing, and along with kids and a wife, you start to have a different focus.”

6 » Dallas Mavericks head of international scouting Alvydas Pazdrazdias told EuroHoops.net on Friday that point guard Nick Calathes, selected by Dallas with the No. 45 overall pick in the second round of the 2009 NBA Draft, will have an opportunity to make the team this season. Calathes, whose contract with Panathinaikos concluded this season, will be able to compete with the Mavericks’ summer league team. Dallas, which will probably have a hole at point guard heading into the 2012-13 season, could very well use a player like Calathes if he can prove he has upped his game. “I believe he can adapt to our system,” Pazdrazdias said. “He is a good player, from who you don’t expect to score a lot of points, but you can be sure he will take care of all the other things, always for the best interest of your team. He plays for the team and does everything for his team to win.”

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