SIX BITS: tennis and lacrosse fall, Junior Day ahead, McCarney doing OK, softball rising

1 » After only giving up two points in their first five matches this season (both to No. 5 Baylor), No. 1 Florida Gators women’s tennis (5-1) was rocked Sunday by the No. 2 Stanford Cardinal (4-0) 5-2 at the Taube Tennis Center in Stanford, CA. Florida, which ended Stanford’s 184-match home winning streak while winning the 2011 NCAA Championship a year ago, had its own 26-match winning streak broken on Sunday. The Cardinal swept the Gators in doubles competition with No. 1 duo Mallory Burdette and Nicole Gibbs thrashing sophomore Alexandra Cercone and junior Allie Will 8-3. Stacey Tan and Ellen Tsay beat junior Lauren Embree and sophomore Sofie Oyen 8-3 as well. Will (3) got a form of redemption in singles action, beating Gibbs (5) 6-4, 2-6, 6-4. Burdette (1), looking for revenge of her own after being beaten for the title one year ago, got just that on Embree (25) by taking her down 6-1, 6-2 in straight sets. Oyen (34) was the only other ranked Florida player to win her match by defeating Ellen Tsay (31) as senior Joanna Mather (4) and Cercone (41) both fell in singles action. UF will play two more non-conference matches before heading into SEC competition.

2 » Suffering a similarly tough loss over the weekend, No. 4 Gators lacrosse (0-1) fell on the road against the No. 3 North Carolina Tar Heels (1-0), fighting back from a 7-3 halftime deficit to lose 11-9. Florida took an early 2-0 lead on North Carolina, but the Tar Heels then outscored the Gators 7-1 to end the opening half. Pairs of consecutive goals by junior attackers Ashley Bruns and Kitty Cullen reduced UF’s deficit but even Florida winning the scoring battle 4-1 over the final 12:07 was not enough to put away North Carolina. Bruns and Cullen finished with three goals apiece, but junior goal keeper Mikey Meagher only notched two saves on the afternoon. Midfielder Kara Cannizzaro led UNC with four goals on six shots, and GK Lauren Maksym was stingy in the net, saving 10 goals while only allowing nine. After losing to the Tar Heels in the season opener last year, the Gators exploded on a 14-match winning streak.

3 » Florida will be holding its second Junior Day of the 2013 recruiting cycle on Saturday and is set to host a number of the country’s top prospects, many of whom are strongly considering playing for the Gators after their respective senior seasons. Among them are a trio of four-stars from Lincoln High School in Tallahassee, FL – linebacker James Hearns (No. 157) and wide receivers Reggie Davis (No. 118) and Taj Williams (No. 177). Hearns committed to Florida on Feb. 2, becoming the Gators’ fourth pledge of the cycle. Davis and Williams also have offers from UF but neither has committed yet; the former will be going on his second visit to Gainesville, FL this month while the latter has expressed on Twitter that he hopes to play for the orange and blue down the line. Other big-time recruits expected to be on campus Saturday are five-star offensive lineman No. 3 Laremy Tunsil (Lake City, FL) and four-stars LB commit No. 53 Daniel McMillian (Jacksonville, FL), defensive tackle commit No. 82 Caleb Brantley (Crescent City, FL), defensive back No. 39 Marcell Harris (Orlando, FL), WR No. 45 Stacy Coley (Oakland Park, FL), four-star running back No. 90 Ryan Green (St. Petersburg, FL), DB No. 94 Nick Washington (Jacksonville, FL), RB No. 111 Kelvin Taylor (Belle Glade, FL) and WR No. 234 Rodney Adams (St. Petersburg, FL)…just to name a few. UF believes it is in a great position to add a number of commits by the weekend’s end.

4 » Former Florida defensive line coach Dan McCarney, now head coach of the North Texas Mean Green, remains in hospital Tuesday morning after suffering stroke on Sunday. In an interview with the Des Moines Register, McCarney said he had the stroke after working out but is expected to make a full recovery with no permanent damage lingering. “I’ve got too much Irish in me to stay down very long,” he joked. “I’m supposed to get out of the hospital in a couple days. I feel good right now. I’ve got a little tingling feeling, but hey, if that’s the worst of it, I’d say I’m a pretty lucky guy. Nothing wrong with me that a little Grey Goose won’t cure.” OGGOA wishes Coach McCarney our best wishes as he recovers.

5 » Going 5-0 in the 2012 season’s first weekend, Florida softball received some good news early this week. On Monday, the Gators learned that third baseman Sami Fagan won SEC Freshman of the Week honors after hitting .666 with three RBI, seven runs, two walks and a pair of stolen bases in five games. Florida was then crowned the new No. 1 team in the country (with 16 of 30 first-place votes) when USA Today and the NFCA released their latest coaches’ top 25 poll. Gators softball and baseball are both ranked as the top team in the nation.

6 » Conflicting reports emerged this week about whether or not Tim Davis was actually Gators head coach Will Muschamp’s first choice to be the team’s new offensive line coach. According to a number of stories, including one from ESPN’s Chris Low, Muschamp first reached out to South Carolina Gamecocks running game coordinator and OL coach Shawn Elliot, who turned down Florida even though UF was offering more than his new $300,000 annual salary pays at South Carolina. However, Muschamp himself denied to The Gainesville Sun’s Pat Dooley that he went after Elliot for the position. Regardless of who his first choice was, Davis is the one now wearing orange and blue and looking to improve an offensive line that struggled in performance and development one year ago.

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

FOUR BITS: Bell, tennis, Tebow, The Swamp

1 » With Jacksonville Dolphins head coach Kerwin Bell a hot name amongst fans to fill the offensive coordinator role with the Florida Gators, The Florida Times-Union reports that he is mulling an offer from the team but not to serve in that capacity. According to the paper, “multiple sources familiar with Florida’s interest” in Bell says the former Gators quarterback is being offered the quarterback coach role with the team. OGGOA was told weeks ago by a person close to Bell that he would only leave Jacksonville if Florida offered a role more substantial than position coach (such as passing game coordinator or co-offensive coordinator at a minimum) because the move would otherwise come with a great reduction in responsibilities and no increase in pay. If he was hired for one of the other positions, Bell would still have fewer responsibilities but could offset that with a return to Gainesville, FL and a higher salary.

2 » The ITA on Tuesday released its preseason national rankings and the defending national champion Gators can be found all over the organization’s lists. Florida as a team comes in at No. 1 to start the season while Stanford, the squad UF defeated for the title, will begin 2012 in the No. 2 spot. The Gators also have five singles competitors in the top 41 nationally: junior Allie Will (No. 3), senior Joanna Mather (No. 4), junior Lauren Embree (No. 25), sophomore Sofie OyenAlex Cercone (No. 41). Stanford’s Mallory Burdette, who Embree defeated in the final match of the national title event, is listed as the preseason No. 1 player in the country. Burdette, along with Nicole Gibbs, also holds recognition as the No. 1 doubles team. Two Florida pairings, however, are ranked in the top 15: Oyen/Will (No. 10) and Embree/Mather (No. 15). The men’s team is ranked No. 8 preseason with three singles competitors and three doubles pairs also listed.

3 » The Beaver County Times recently spoke with Pittsburgh Steelers offensive linemen Maurkice Pouncey and Marcus Gilbert, asking each about their time with Denver Broncos quarterback Tim Tebow while in Gainesville. Both said plenty of kind things about Tebow, though Pouncey took a bit of an issue to only being asked about him and not the other Florida players he faces throughout the year. “How come nobody asked me about Brandon Spikes when we played the [New England] Patriots?” he quipped. “I’m tired of answering all these questions about Tim Tebow.” Fair enough. Pouncey and Gilbert both agreed that Tebow was a great teammate and somebody they liked on a personal level as well. They each also said he was a crazy competitor in the weight room. “They actually had to calm him down at times,” Pouncey told the paper. “He was trying to do things quarterbacks shouldn’t do. He’d go in there and try to bench press all this weight and do stuff quarterbacks shouldn’t’ do, and he’s the guy who was to throw the ball on Saturdays.” “Yeah, he’s an animal in the weight room,” Gilbert added. “He was a big guy with a lot of energy in all aspects of football, whether it was in the weight room, in the meeting room or on the football field. He was so passionate about the game. That’s what you want from your leader. He was the kind of guy you want on your team. Just being around him drove me to become a better player.” Pittsburgh and Denver go head-to-head in the first round of the NFL playoffs on Sunday.

4 » The University of Florida announced Thursday that demolition and renovations to the West Concourse portion of Ben Hill Griffin Stadium began one month ago on Dec. 5, 2011. According to UF, the renovations will provide new features “including enhanced restroom facilities, better overall lighting, improved crowd circulation, and winder concessions with more points of sale, including new food items not previously offered in the stadium.” There will also be “flat screen televisions, new graphics and new way finding signage, redesigned ceilings, and the use of high-end finishes along with brighter colors.” Florida expects the work to be completed before the 2012 season begins, and you can find out more about the project by clicking here.

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Embree’s will earns redemption for UF, Boonstra

Exactly one year ago today, Stanford Cardinal tennis player Mallory Burdette won her team the 2010 NCAA Championship. Squaring off against the higher-ranked Florida Gators, Stanford captured their 16th title when Burdette battled and eventually upended then-senior Marrit Boonstra 6-4, 6-7(4), 7-5 in the final match of the afternoon.

Boonstra, understandably, was devastated. Her 17-match singles winning streak came to an end and, more importantly, her inability to close that day cost her team a title. No one blamed her for the loss, but she heaped plenty of it on herself.

What a difference 12 months can make.

After falling to the Cardinal in that match and once again at the 2011 USTA/ITA Indoor Championships, the Gators had revenge on their minds entering the 2011 NCAA Tournament as the No. 2 overall seed.

And wouldn’t you know it? Fighting their way through the bracket with relative ease, Florida wound up face-to-face with Stanford on their home court, a place where the Cardinal had not lost in the last 184 matches spanning more than 12 years.

Tuesday night, it became sophomore Lauren Embree’s job to release that frustration and exact the revenge her team had been building up. What a coincidence it was Embree would be given that opportunity for the Gators…against the exact opponent who ended their party a year earlier.

Embree’s match with Burdette at Taube Tennis Center in Stanford, CA was one for the books. It may not have set records for match length or points won, but something special happened on the court that is tough to capture in words.

Fans in attendance and watching around the world saw two players scrape and claw their way to the brink. Label it determination, tenacity or perseverance; whatever you choose to call it, Embree-Burdette turned into Ali-Frazier and someone had to win.

Luckily for Florida, it was Embree, who fought against impossible odds to claim the fifth national title for the Gators women’s tennis program.

She started the match hot, up 5-1 in the first set before Burdette powered her way to six-straight games and a 7-5 win. Looking dejected, Embree fought back to claim the second set 6-3 and even things up. Then Burdette took over again, mounting a 4-0 advantage in the third and final set, putting Florida’s hopes for a title on the brink even as Gators freshman Olivia Janowicz held a massive lead on the far court.

Embree did not panic.

She kept her focus, channeled some inner strength and fought back to take a 5-4 lead. When Burdette knotted the match twice at 5-5 and 6-6, Embree kept her composure and realized, even though she was exhausted and outmatched physically, her opponent was just as tired and was making more and more mental mistakes.

If Embree could put away a point, she did. If she was falling behind, she kept her rally long enough where either Burdette would have to expend extra energy to win or commit an unforced error due to exhaustion, frustration or both.

Burdette may have had the physical advantage (not to mention a raucous home crowd cheering her on), but Embree was onto her and did everything she could to create opportunities for Burdette to slip up.

In the end, it worked. Embree won a thrilling tiebreaker 8-6, her teammates exploded onto the court to hug her in celebration and Gator Chomps were performed everywhere from Stanford to Gainesville.

Florida accomplished a rare feat.

Not only did they end an undefeated streak, beat the No. 1 team in the country and avenge two championship losses within the last 12 months, the Gators and Embree redeemed a player who gave her heart and soul to the team for four years only to be crushed emotionally in her final performance.

Tuesday night, on the court as a student coach for Florida, Boonstra smiled.

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , ,

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

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Top 10 for 2010: On the Field Moments of the Year

For as much as the Florida Gators were in the news off the field in 2010, the Gator Nation was making plenty of headlines on it as well. From game-winning baskets to displays of pure emotion, Florida experienced some unique athletic moments in 2010. Below are OGGOA‘s Top 10 On the Field Moments of the Year.

OGGOA RELATED: Top 10 for 2010: Off the Field Stories of the Year

10 » FLORIDA WINS INAUGURAL LACROSSE GAME (2/20/10)
When Florida decided it wanted to start another women’s athletics program, the University Athletic Association did extensive research and found out that women’s lacrosse would be the perfect fit. In preparation for their first season, the Gators and head coach Amanda O’Leary secured the country’s No. 1 recruiting class (according to Inside Lacrosse Magazine). All the hard work and preparation to get the team ready paid off on Feb. 20 when lacrosse debuted in the brand new Donald R. Dizney Stadium to a boisterous crowd of 2,114 spectators. Florida defeated Jacksonville 16-6 behind four goals and four assists from freshman sensation Ashley Bruns. All-in-all the Gators faced 16 championship-caliber teams and played so well that they reached the 2010 ALC Tournament semifinals. In just their second year of existence, Florida women’s lacrosse is ranked as the No. 17 team in the country going into the 2011 season.

9 » NEAR VICTORIES/HEARTBREAKING LOSSES (5/25/10 * 3/18/10 * 10/9/10)

It is rare for teams to go undefeated and even less likely that an entire athletic program can go through a season without its share of close losses and nail biting finishes. Such was the case for the Gators in 2010. On May 25, No. 3 women’s tennis was barely defeated by the No. 8 Stanford Cardinal for the 2010 NCAA National Championship. Stanford won 4-3 after Florida rallied when they were just two individual games away from being defeated. The Gators forced third sets in two singles matches; sophomore Joanna Mather took down her opponent but senior No. 65 Marrit Boonstra was not as lucky. Losing her first set 6-4, Boonstra fought back to even her match with No. 33 Mallory Burdette by taking the second set 6-7 (4). Down 2-0 in the third, she pushed ahead with a valiant effort to take a 5-4 lead but ended up losing her final three games, the match itself and the championship.

Returning to the NCAA Tournament for the first time in three seasons, No. 10-seed Florida got in a bit easier than some might have expected. Matched up against the No. 7-seed Brigham Young Cougars in the event’s opening game, the Gators fought hard but could not stop Cougars star guard Jimmer Fredette. Allowing BYU to jump ahead 59-46 in the second half, UF came back behind freshman G Kenny Boynton and junior forward Chandler Parsons. Florida missed potential game-winners during regulation (Parsons) and the first overtime (Boynton) and eventually fell to Brigham Young 99-92 in a double-overtime heartbreaker with Fredette adding to his game-high 37 points.

Though losing a national championship and NCAA Tournament game are both difficult, Gators fans will probably look back on No. 12/14 Florida’s shocking loss to the No. 9/12 LSU Tigers on Oct. 10 as the worst near-victory of the season. Wearing orange jerseys for the first time since 1989, the Gators came back from a 12-point deficit when freshman wide receiver Andre Debose returned a kickoff 88 yards for a touchdown, sophomore running back Mike Gillislee rumbled in for a touchdown and redshirt junior quarterback John Brantley completed a two-point conversion to sophomore WR Frankie Hammond, Jr. to cap a 10-play, 80-yard drive. All Florida wanted when its defense came out was a stop, but LSU put together a 62-yard game-winning drive that included numerous third down conversions and a converted fake field goal attempt on fourth down from UF’s 36-yard line with 35 seconds remaining. Back-to-back passes to WR Terrence Toliver (of 28 and 3 yards, respectively) and the Tigers left The Swamp with a 33-29 victory. Players have noted that the loss was a negative turning point in the season, one that may or may not have led to the team dropping their third-straight game one week later at home to Mississippi State.

Continue Reading » Top 10 for 2010: On the Field Moments of the Year

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

No. 8 Stanford squeaks by No. 3 Florida for title

Starving off a near spectacular comeback, No. 8 Stanford Cardinal women’s tennis (26-1) captured the 2010 NCAA National Championship with a 4-3 defeat of the No. 3 Florida Gators (29-3) on Tuesday at the Dan Magill Tennis Complex in Athens, GA.

The Gators were just two individual games away from defeat but battled back to force third sets in two singles matches while the Cardinal held a 3-2 lead. Florida sophomore Joanna Mather took down Stanford’s Carolyn McVeigh 5-7, 6-4, 6-0 in the second-to-last match, tying the score 3-3 and leaving the title in the hands of the final two competitors – senior No. 65 Marrit Boonstra and No. 33 Mallory Burdette

After losing her first set 6-4, Boonstra fought back to even her match with Burdette by winning the second set 6-7 (4). Down 2-0 in the third, Boonstra pushed ahead with a valiant effort to take a 5-4 lead. However, she ended up losing her final three games, allowing Burdette to tie it up and eventually reign victorious 7-5.

“My heart just aches for Marrit,” Gators head coach Ron Thornqvist said after the loss. “She has given this program everything she has. It’s just not fair for it to come down to a result like this for her. She’s going to be hurting for a long time. Our players will echo when I say that they love her for all she has done for them and how she gives them her heart. Marrit gave herself a chance in the match, leading 5-4 and was playing good tennis. It seemed like Mallory relaxed at 5-all and I thought that was the difference.”

The Gators won the doubles point with victories from the No. 29 duo of freshman Lauren Embree and Mather as well as the pair of freshman Carolina Hitimana and senior Anastasia Revzina. However, Florida’s No. 5-ranked team of Boonstra and freshman Allie Will uncharacteristically fell 8-4 to No. 2 Hilary Barte and Lindsay Brudette.

In singles action, No. 9 Embree held No. 4 Barte set-less with a 6-4, 6-4 victory. Mather joined her with a singles win, but No. 8 Will (6-3, 6-3), Boonstra, No. 102 Revzina (6-2, 6-2) and No. 107 Hitimana (6-3, 7-5) were all out-matched by Stanford.

“That was probably one of the better matches I’ve been involved with in a match of this magnitude,” Thornqvist reflected. “I thought we played terrific in doubles all year and today was no different. For some reason, we got off to a slow start in singles. It looked really grim there for a while, but just like we talked about all year long, we were resilient. I really thought our team showed tremendous courage, heart and pride. In the end we came up short, but I was really, really proud of our effort and our play in a championship round like this. Stanford played at a high level from the beginning of the match. In the first 20 minutes of singles, balls were whipping past us left and right. For us to slow that down and use our athleticism and neutralize some of that pace was great.”

The Gators women will now break apart from the team and compete in singles and doubles for individual NCAA National Championships beginning on Wednesday. Embree and Will are set to represent Florida in singles action, while Will/Boonstra and Embree/Revzina will pair in the doubles draw.

With the victory, the Cardinal captures their 16th title in 29 years and first over the Gators. Florida and Stanford squared off in the 2003 championship match with the Gators winning 4-3, but the Cardinal began their revenge with a 4-0 semifinal victory in 2006, the last time the two teams had faced until Tuesday.

Photo/Quote Credits: University of Florida

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,