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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FOUR BITS: women’s tennis, Tebow, Purifoy

1 » After falling short of a third-straight team national title, Florida Gators women’s tennis felt confident that its three singles competitors would make some noise in the 2013 NCAA Singles Championship, which began on Wednesday. Instead, all three Florida women lost their first-round matches and were eliminated from the competition. No. 1 senior Lauren Embree continued her tough week by being upset 3-6, 2-6. Just two days earlier, Embree suffered the first NCAA dual match singles loss of her career when she was similarly beaten in straight sets. For one of the greatest tennis players in school history, both results are shocking. No. 17 junior Sofie Oyen (3-6, 4-6) and No. 51 junior Alex Cercone (3-6, 7-6, 4-6) also dropped their matches; all three lost to lower-ranked competitors. The No. 11 duo of Embree/Oyen will participate in the 2013 NCAA Doubles Championship beginning on Thursday.

2 » The “Chuck Norris wears Tim Tebow pajamas” joke that was so often mentioned during former Gators quarterback Tim Tebow’s college days got the actor’s attention at the time. The two wound up meeting and becoming friendly. Now Norris (via the conservative-slanted website NewsBusters) is campaigning on Tebow’s behalf, questioning why he is not currently employed by an NFL team despite proving to be a clutch player. In this 1,075-word rant, Norris calls Tebow “a winner – plain and simple” while arguing that the two are very similar as people and that is why the Jacksonville Jaguars should be signing the controversial player.

I’ve heard the critics say Tebow has poor technical skills, but the truth is that Tim is a natural leader, an amazingly gifted football player, an inspiration to his team and the possessor of intense determination and strategy to bring any team to victory — no matter what the odds. One can improve technique, but leadership is innate. That is why I believe that Tebow could be a superstar and legend in the NFL.

Tebow is a player who rises to the occasion and delivers big in critical moments. He reminds me of myself when I used to compete in martial arts. I would spar with my black belts in class, and sometimes they would outscore me. Yet in the tournaments, I would defeat them. My students used to ask me, “Why is it that we can contend equally against you in class but can’t beat you in the tournaments?” My answer was always the same: “When it counts, I rise to the occasion.”

3 » Florida junior cornerback Loucheiz Purifoy is receiving a ton of praise heading into the 2013 season, especially from ESPN’s draft analysts. Mel Kiper, Jr. has Purifoy ranked as his No. 10 overall prospect, and Todd McShay believes he is approaching “top-tier” cornerback status. “FLA CB Purifoy (#15) needs strength and to improve [his] ‘off’ cover skills, but [he] has feet, balance, hips, instincts to become [a] top-tier NFL corner,” he tweeted on Wednesday. McShay has Purifoy ranked as his No. 19 overall prospect and also sees him making an impact as a punt return specialist in the NFL.

4 » If you have find yourself wondering what Florida’s sports nutrition program is like, check out this feature by Scott Carter, the senior writer on Florida’s official website, which profiles the program and Sarah Snyder, the Gators’ director of nutrition. “What can give you that upper edge if everyone is doing the same amount of practice time, the same amount of intensity?” Snyder asked rhetorically. “Hydration and nutrition come into play, and recovery comes into play.”

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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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Florida women’s tennis tops Cal 4-2, advances to fourth-straight NCAA Tournament semifinal

No. 1 Florida Gators women’s tennis (26-2) advanced to the semifinals of the 2013 NCAA Tournament for the fourth-straight season with a 4-2 victory over the No. 8 California Golden Bears (19-6) on Sunday in Champaign, IL.

Florida improved to 23-5 all-time in quarterfinal matches and is moving on to the semifinals for the seventh time in the last nine seasons as well as the 23rd time in school history. UF swept the first three opponents it has faced in the NCAA Tournament and now holds a combined 16-2 match record in this year’s event.

The Gators started things off with the No. 11 duo of senior Lauren Embree and junior Sofie Oyen winning four-straight games to clinch the doubles point with an 8-4 victory over the No. 33 team of Lynn Chi and Anett Schutting. Freshmen Danielle Collins and Brianna Morgan, Florida’s third doubles team, had previously won their match 8-4 to put Embree/Oyen in position to clinch the point.

When the six singles matches got underway, the Gators were able to pull off four first-set victories. However, the Golden Bears knotted things up at 1-1 as No. 5 Zsofi Susanyi routed No. 51 junior Alex Cercone in straight sets (6-1, 6-1).

Cal was not able to hold even with Florida as No. 1 Embree quickly got the lead back for UF by taking down No. 8 Schutting with ease 6-2, 6-0. Junior No. 123 Olivia Janowicz added to the lead by beating Tayler Davis just minutes later 6-1, 6-4.

The Golden Bears drew closer when No. 43 Klara Fabikova upset No. 17 Oyen (7-5, 6-4), reducing the Gators’ advantage to 3-2 with three matches in progress. It only took senior No. 116 Caroline Hitimana a few moments to shut the door on the quarterfinals, however, as she closed out a 6-3, 6-2 victory over Annie Goransson to clinch the match.

Florida will remain in Champaign for the rest of the tournament as it looks to defend its back-to-back NCAA titles. The Gators have now won 16-straight NCAA Tournament matches dating back to 2011 and are currently on a 19-match winning streak dating back to March 3. Florida will next take on No. 12 Stanford on Monday at 6 p.m.

The Gators beat the Cardinal previously this season, 4-2 on Feb. 24. in Gainesville, FL, but UF suffered its last NCAA Tournament loss at the hands of SU, which won 4-3 in the 2010 national championship game.

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Florida women’s tennis sweeps Duke 4-0

No. 1 Florida Gators women’s tennis (25-2) advanced to the quarterfinals of the 2013 NCAA Tournament for the fourth-straight season with a 4-0 sweep of the No. 15 Duke Blue Devils (16-10) on Friday in Champaign, IL.

Florida improved to 27-3 all-time in round of 16 matches and is moving on to the quarterfinals for the eighth time in the last nine seasons as well as the 27th time in school history. UF has swept all three opponents they have faced in the NCAA Tournament, amassing a combined 12-0 match record so far in this year’s event.

The Gators were partially gifted the doubles point on Friday as the Blue Devils’ injuries made them unable to field a third doubles team. The No. 11 duo of senior Lauren Embree and junior Sofie Oyen cruised to an 8-1 victory to clinch the point.

Duke was also forced to forfeit a singles match due to injury, putting Florida up 2-0 before singles action even began. No. 123 junior Olivia Janowicz put UF ahead 3-0 by quickly dispatching of Nicole Lipp 6-1, 6-2, and No. 89 freshman Brianna Morgan earned a 6-3, 6-0 victory over Marianne Jodoin to clinch the match for the Gators.

Florida will remain in Champaign for the rest of the tournament as it looks to defend its back-to-back NCAA titles. The Gators have now won 15-straight NCAA Tournament matches dating back to 2011 and are currently on an 18-match winning streak dating back to March 3. Florida will next take on No. 8 California on Sunday at 1 p.m.

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FOUR BITS: lacrosse, tennis, Moss, Sloan

1 » After having just player receive an individual honor in 2012, Florida Gators lacrosse swept the positional awards and took home a major coaching honor from the American Lacrosse Conference in 2013. Seniors Kitty Cullen (Offensive Player of the Year), Sam Farrell (Defensive Player of the Year), Brittany Dashiell (Midfielder of the Year) and Mikey Meagher (Goalie of the Year) each won the individual awards while head coach Amanda O’Leary was named Coach of the Year. Florida also saw five players – the aforementioned plus sophomore Shannon Gilroy named to the All-ALC First Team – with senior Ashley Bruns and senior Emily Dohony earning Second Team honors. Next up for the Gators is the 2013 ALC Tournament, which starts for Florida in the semifinals on Friday at 4 p.m.

2 » No. 1 Gators women’s tennis (22-2) was named the top overall seed in the 2013 NCAA Tournament and will host first- and second-round action in Gainesville, FL from May 11-12 as it looks to advance to the NCAA Round of 16. Florida opens up against Marist College (11-7) in the first round and will face the winner of No. 22 Georgia Tech (14-9) vs. No. 37 Yale (17-3). This will be the 15th consecutive year that UF is hosting the opening rounds of the tournament. Also announced this week were the three women’s tennis players who have earned the opportunity to compete for the 2013 NCAA Singles Championship; competition begins at the conclusion of the team tournament. Senior Lauren Embree (No. 1 overall seed), junior Alex Cercone and junior Sofie Oyen will all play in the 64-player draw with Embree and Oyen also teaming up for the 32-team 2013 NCAA Doubles Championship tournament.

Read two more Florida Gators news BITS…after the break!
Continue Reading » FOUR BITS: lacrosse, tennis, Moss, Sloan

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Florida’s Lauren Embree named SEC Player of the Year for third time; Gators pick up SEC awards

Florida Gators senior Lauren Embree was named the 2013 Southeastern Conference Player of the Year on Wednesday, becoming the first player in the history of the award to be honored with it three times in her career.

Embree, who was also named SEC Player of the Year in 2010 and 2012, is 39-0 for her career in singles matches during conference play. She is 17-0 overall this season and 10-0 against SEC opponents. Embree has also been a catalyst in the Gators winning eight total SEC Championships including four-straight SEC regular-season titles and four-straight SEC Tournament titles.

“It is really special to me,” Embree said in a school release. “I’ve never thought I’d be the first player to win this award so many times because there are and have been so many talented and great players in the SEC.

“I’m not really focused on awards. I just try and come out every day and win for the team and for my teammates. It’s an extra cool award to get and it’s something I want to thank my coaches and teammates who have helped me.”

Head women’s tennis coach Roland Thornqvist, who was named SEC Coach of the Year for the fourth time in the last 11 seasons, praised Embree just like he has throughout her entire career.

Continue Reading » Florida’s Lauren Embree named SEC Player of the Year for third time; Gators pick up SEC awards

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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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