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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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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FOUR BITS: Hunter, lacrosse, tennis selections

1 » Florida Gators freshman gymnast Kytra Hunter, who won a pair of 2012 NCAA Championships in the all-around and vault last month, was named the recipient of the Honda Sports Award on Wednesday. The honor, which basically makes Hunter the “gymnast of the year” by recognizing her as the best student-athlete in her sport, is awarded to one female in 12 different NCAA-sanctioned sports. It is the second straight year that a Gators student-athlete has won one of the awards with outfielder Kelsey Bruder bringing home the honor for softball in 2011. In the 36-year history of the Honda Sports Award, Florida has won it 15 times in six different sports (UF student-athletes were honored in two sports in 1982).

2 » One of six Florida lacrosse players to be honored by the American Lacrosse Conference on Wednesday, freshman midfielder Nora Barry was named the 2012 ALC Rookie of the Year after registering 32 goals (on 54 shots) in 17 games during the regular season. Barry’s goal total was the fifth-highest on the Gators, but she led the team in ground balls and also finished second in draw controls. Three Florida juniors – attacker Kitty Cullen, M Brittany Dashiell and defender Sam Farrell – were named to the All-ALC First Team, while Barry, junior goalkeeper Mikey Meagher and junior A Gabi Wiegand received second-team nods.

3 » Four members of No. 2 Gators women’s tennis found themselves placed in the brackets for the 2012 NCAA Individual Championships when the selections were announced on Wednesday. Junior Allie Will not only earned the No. 1 seed in the singles tournament but is also one half of the No. 1 doubles team along with sophomore Sofie Oyen. Junior Lauren Embree was placed in the grouping of singles seeds 9-16, Oyen was chosen as an alternate and the pairing of Embree/senior Joanna Mather also made it as an at-large doubles team. Florida has not won a NCAA singles title since 1996 (Jill Craybas) or a doubles title since 2001 (Whitney Laiho/Jessica Lehnhoff).

4 » No. 11 UF men’s tennis also had four players selected for the NCAA Individual Championships as senior Nassim Slilam and juniors Tripper Carleton and Bob van Overbeek all received at-large bids for the singles bracket. (Sophomore Spencer Newman is listed as an alternate.) Additionally, the duo of Slilam/junior Billy Federhofer will compete in the doubles draw. The Gators have not won a NCAA singles title since 1999 (Jeff Morrison) or a doubles title since 1993 (Mark Merklein/David Blair).

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Florida women’s tennis takes down Georgia 4-1, wins third-straight SEC Tournament title

No. 3 Florida Gators (21-1) women’s tennis captured the 2012 Southeastern Conference Tournament Championship on Saturday with a 4-1 victory over the No. 7 Georgia Bulldogs (21-4) to bring the title back to Gainesville, FL for the third-straight season and eighth time in the last 11 years.

Competing at the Palmer/Salloum Tennis Center in Oxford, MS, Florida worked hard to clinch the doubles point and take an early advantage. Junior Caroline Hitimana and sophomore Olivia Janowicz lost the first doubles match 8-1, but the No. 1 duo of junior Allie Will/sophomore Sofie Oyen and No. 19 pairing of junior Lauren Embree/senior Joanna Mather each won their respective matches to give UF a 1-0 lead.

No. 23 Mather followed her doubles win with a dominant singles victory (6-4, 6-4), putting the Gators ahead 2-0. The Bulldogs got a point back as Lilly Kimbell defeated sophomore No. 68 Alex Cercone (6-3, 2-6, 6-3) but lost it just as quickly when No. 10 Embree came from behind to finish off No. 7 Chelsey Gullickson (3-6, 6-4, 7-5).

With three matches remaining, UF was looking for one more point to clinch the title while UGA was hoping to win three-straight in a major comeback effort.

Florida would not give Georgia that opportunity as No. 121 Hitimana earned a 7-5, 4-6, 6-4 victory to clinch the win for the Gators.

No. 1 Will led her singles match (6-7, 7-5, 4-2) at the conclusion of the event, and No. 51 Oyen was fighting for a victory in her contest as well (4-6, 7-5, 5-5).

UF women’s tennis has now won 18 SEC Tournament titles and captured the SEC regular season championship 26 times in the team’s history. Florida will make its 30th appearance in the NCAA Tournament on May 11 as the Gators look to defend their national title.

Photo Credit: Sean Cartell

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FOUR BITS: gymnastics, baseball, tennis, softball

1 » No. 1 Florida Gators gymnastics did everything they could during the 2012 NCAA Super Six on Saturday but came just short of earning their first national title as the Alabama Crimson Tide edged Florida 197.850-197.775 to win the 2012 NCAA Championship. One of four teams in 31 years to win the national title, Alabama captured their sixth in school history by a 0.075 margin thanks to a stellar 49.500 effort on the balance beam in the final rotation. The Gators led the Crimson Tide by 0.025 heading into the final rotation; however, Florida posted a 49.400 on the floor exercise, allowing Alabama to leap them and earn the championship. All is not lost for the Gators as UF’s individual gymnasts will compete for event national titles on Sunday. Freshman Kytra Hunter already won the NCAA Championship in the all-around on Friday.

2 » Looking to carry some momentum from the 16-inning marathon win Friday night, No. 1 Florida baseball (30-9, 10-7 SEC) was not as fortunate Saturday night falling 5-3 to the Georgia Bulldogs (24-16, 8-9 SEC) at McKethan Stadium in Gainesville, FL. UF led 2-1 after the first inning thanks to a two-run bomb by senior right fielder Preston Tucker (1/4, HR, 2 RBI, R, SB) but found themselves in a 4-2 hole after UGA rallied for three runs in the top of the third. A solo homer by senior center fielder Daniel Pigott (1/4, HR, RBI, R) cut the Gators’ deficit to a single run in the bottom of the fourth, but Bulldogs’ starter Michael Palazzone and reliever Blake Dieterich combined to no-hit Florida over the final five innings of the game. Georgia’s timely pitching and clutch defense handed the loss to junior left-handed pitcher Brian Johnson (5-2, 7.0 IP, 7 H, 4 ER, 5 K). UF has not swept a weekend series in over a month hopes to pick up a series win in the rubber match on Sunday at 3 p.m. (ESPN2).

3 » No. 1-seed Gators women’s tennis (20-1) swept the No. 4-seed Ole Miss Rebels (17-8) in the semifinals of the 2012 Southeastern Conference Tournament on Saturday, using a 4-0 victory to propel them into the finals on Sunday against No. 3-seed Georgia. Florida captured the doubles point in entertaining fashion having split the first two matches 1-1 before the No. 1 duo of junior Allie Will and sophomore Sofie Oyen earned a 9-8 (7-5) victory. Singles action was a more of a breeze for the Gators with No. 23 senior Joanna Mather (6-3, 6-1), No. 10 junior Lauren Embree (6-2, 6-0) and No. 51 Oyen (3-6, 6-1, 6-0) picking up three wins to end the match. UF, which improved to 25-0 all-time in SEC Tournament quarterfinals action on Friday, is now 23-2 in the semifinals and competing for their 18th conference tournament title.Florida defeated Georgia 4-3 on March 4 in Athens, GA in the teams’ sole meeting this season.

4 » No. 3/4 Gators softball (41-5) completed their sweep of the Florida International Golden Panthers (24-23) with a 7-1 victory on Saturday at Pressly Softball Stadium in Gainesville. Florida and FIU were scoreless through four innings with Gators sophomore right-hander Hannah Rogers (24-3) holding the Golden Panthers hitless for most of the contest. Florida jumped ahead 1-0 in the fifth on a RBI double by sophomore shortstop Cheyenne Coyle (1/3, RBI, BB), but Rogers allowed FIU to even things up in the top of the sixth. Junior RF Ensley Gammel (1/2, HR RBI, R) put the Gators ahead for good in the sixth with a solo homer that spurned a six-run bottom of the inning including two RBIs by freshman third baseman Sami Fagan (2-3, 2 RBI, R, BB) and another solo bomb by freshman left fielder Jessica Damico (1/1, HR, RBI, R). Rogers (7.0 IP, 3 H, R, 3 BB, 7 K) completed the outing and her team’s third-straight weekend series sweep.

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