Gators tennis begins, advances in NCAA Singles

Four members of the Florida Gators tennis program advanced to the second round of the 2011 NCAA Individual Championships for singles on Wednesday.

No. 6 senior Alexandre Lacroix took his match 6-4, 4-6, 6-4 over Tulsa’s Japie De Klerk at the Taube Tennis Center in Stanford, CA.

Following him were a trio from Florida’s women’s team. No. 7 sophomore Allie Will defeated No. 60 Emily Fraser of Virginia in straight sets (6-3, 6-0). No. 17 sophomore Lauren Embree accomplished the same feat over Miami’s No. 6 Bianca Eichkorn (7-5, 6-4), and No. 42 junior Joanna Mather followed suit in her win over Marshall’s No. 52 Michaela Kissell (6-2, 6-1).

However, Wednesdays singles matches were not without disappointment.

No. 40 sophomore Sekou Bangoura, Jr. fell 6-2, 6-4 to No. 8 Henrique Cunha of Duke, and a pair from the women’s team joined him. No. 53 freshman Olivia Janowicz won her first set but fell to No. 12 Jacqueline Cako of Arizona State (3-6, 6-1, 6-0), and No. 54 freshman Alex Cercone dropped her match in straight sets to Virginia’s No. 27 Lindsey Hardenbergh (6-2, 7-6).

All is not lost for Bangoura and Cercone as both will compete in doubles action on Thursday. The No. 17 duo of Lacroix/Bangoura and No. 2 team of Will/Cercone will try to advance in their respective first-round matches.

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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.

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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 shuts out UCLA 4-0, will face Stanford for 2011 NCAA Championship

Competing in the Final Four for the second-straight season and 21st time in the last 25 years, No. 2 Florida Gators women’s tennis (30-1) shut out the No. 6 UCLA Bruins (22-6) 4-0 to advance to the 2011 NCAA Championship taking place on Tuesday at Taube Tennis Stadium in Stanford, CA.

Florida got the evening started by winning two of three doubles contests and picking up the first point of the match. The No. 45 pairing of sophomore Lauren Embree and freshman Sofie Oyen won their set 8-6, and the duo of sophomore Caroline Hitimana and junior Joanna Mather closed out their opponents 8-4.

Embree/Oyen and Hitimana/Mather have been on fire for UF, also winning the doubles point for the Gators in their Elite Eight match-up on Sunday.

No. 17 Embree captured the first singles point with a dominant 6-2, 6-2 victory over No. 42 Noelle Hickey and was followed by No. 54 Cercone, who outlasted No. 77 Courtney Dolehide 7-5, 6-3 to give Florida a 3-0 advantage. With the sun setting and the courts becoming much colder, No. 7 sophomore Allie Will – UF’s ace all season – clinched the win for the Gators with a 7-6, 6-2 triumph over No. 57 McCall Jones on court one.

Florida will face the No. 1 Stanford Cardinal (28-0) for the title for the second consecutive year and ninth time since 1988. The Cardinal defeated the Gators 4-3 for the 2010 NCAA Championship and is 6-2 all-time against UF when competing for the national title. Stanford is 16-11 all-time against Florida.

Tuesday’s championship game, where the Gators will look to break the Cardinal’s 184 consecutive match home winning streak, will air live on ESPNU at 7 p.m.

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Florida golf: men advance with NCAA regional win; women tie for 10th in NCAA Championship

By Nicole Boyett – OGGOA Special Contributor

No. 3 Florida Gators men’s golf earned a six-stroke victory in the 2011 NCAA Southeast Regional at Golden Ocala by finishing 18-under par. Florida’s win sends them to the 2011 NCAA Championship in Stillwater, OK beginning May 31.

Senior Andres Echavarria led the Gators with three rounds under par, finishing 9-under and in fourth place to complete his fourth top-five performance the season.

Florida had to overcome a four-shot deficit Saturday after a 13-under performance from Augusta State on Friday earned them the overall lead. The Gators covered more than four shots, posting an 11-under total Saturday while Augusta State fell flat to finish 1-under for the day. Senior Bank Vongvanij tied for sixth place at 7-under with sophomore Phillip Choi not far behind (-4, T-12). Sophomore Tommy Mou completed Florida’s lineup at +2.

The top five finishers in each of the six regionals advance to the championship. Moving on from the Southeast Regional were Florida (-18), Augusta State (-12), Kennesaw State (-11), North Carolina State (-9) and Arkansas (-8). Four other Southeastern Conference teams have also advanced: Alabama, LSU, Georgia and Tennessee.

The No. 24 women’s golf team finished 44-over par and tied for 10th with Vanderbilt at the 2011 NCAA Championship at Traditions Club in Bryan, TX. After a rain delay and eventual postponement due to darkness on Friday, golfers had to finish their third round before beginning the fourth and final round Saturday.

Junior Andrea Watts was the top-performing Gator, finishing tied for 15th at +5. After two rounds, sophomore Mia Piccio was 2-under par. By carding two 4-over rounds, Piccio finished T-19 at 6-over. Junior Evan Jensen totaled 13-over, and sophomore Isabelle Lendl struggled with her swing changes and finished a rough 29-over. Senior Jessica Yadloczky completed her final tournament in the orange and blue at +28.

UCLA (+21) wound up capturing the NCAA Championship in women’s golf. Defending champion Purdue (+25) finished in second place followed by LSU (+29), Virginia (+34) and top-ranked Southern California (+38).

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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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Shyatt agrees to become Wyoming head coach

Returning to a team he led for one season over a decade ago, Florida Gators assistant basketball coach Larry Shyatt has agreed to become the new head coach of the Wyoming Cowboys. Florida head coach Billy Donovan‘s longest tenured assistant, Shyatt met with Wyoming officials in Atlanta, GA on Wednesday and hammered out a deal Thursday to pull him away from the university after a successful seven-year run.

“I’ve spent seven great years at the University of Florida helping to build a championship-caliber program, and this is one of the only places I would have considered leaving for,” Shyatt said in a Wyoming press release. “I’m excited about the commitment of the administration, and the passionate fan base I remember at Wyoming, and I can’t wait to meet, work with and develop a great relationship with the current team.”

Serving as an assistant across the country for 24 seasons, Shyatt accepted the head coaching gig with Wyoming in 1997 but only stuck around for a year. Clemson, where he was an assistant from 1994-97, nabbed him with a more lucrative contract and the allure of a higher-echelon program in a top-tier conference.

The Cowboys sued Shyatt for breaching his five-year contract, but the parties settled out of court when he agreed to pay back $286,000. Compiling a 70-84 record as a head coach, Shyatt was fired in 2003 and picked up by Donovan in 2004.

After Shyatt joined the team as an assistant, the Gators captured three Southeastern Conference Tournament Championships (2005-07) and back-to-back NCAA National Championships (2006-07). His praiseworthy recruiting efforts and outstanding defensive coaching made him a prominent reason for the team’s overall success.

“For me personally there’s both an excitement and sadness,” Donovan said in a statement. “Larry is one of my closest friends and his impact here at Florida over the last seven years has been immeasurable.”

Taking the job with the Cowboys, Shyatt will have the opportunity to work with his son, North Florida assistant coach Jeremy Shyatt, if he chooses to bring him along for the ride. Another coach Shyatt could add is UCLA’s Scott Duncan, who worked under him as an assistant previously at both Wyoming and Clemson.

The Casper Star-Tribune reports Shyatt has signed a five-year contract worth upwards of $700,000 per season plus incentives.

Check out this collection of articles from the Star-Tribune over a decade ago about Shyatt during his first stint with the Cowboys.

In related news… Florida assistant Richard Pitino, thought to be a front-runner for the Florida Gulf Coast head coaching job, was passed over when the university instead decided to hire Florida State assistant Andy Enfield on Wednesday. Pitino is still being considered for other head coaching gigs across the country.

Photo Credit: Unknown

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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

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