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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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 lacrosse tops Stanford 13-11 in NCAAs

The first program in the history of the sport to earn a berth in the NCAA Tournament in only its second year of existence, No. 4 Florida Gators lacrosse (16-3) defeated the Stanford Cardinal (16-3) 13-11 on Saturday evening in the first round of the 2011 event at Donald R. Dizney Stadium in Gainesville, FL.

Led by sophomores attacker Kitty Cullen and midfielder Janine Hillier, who had four goals apiece, Florida went back-and-forth with Stanford after multiple weather delays that pushed the start time back to 6 p.m.

The Gators jumped ahead 4-0 less than six minutes into the game, but the Cardinal evened things up with a 4-0 run spanning 17:55. Hillier snuck a goal in via an assist from sophomore M Brittany Dashiell to put UF ahead 5-4 going into the break.

Florida took a three-goal lead with scores from Hillier and Dashiell in the first minute of the second half, but another 4-0 run by Stanford gave them an 8-7 advantage.

After Dashiel tied things up for the Gators with 20:01 to play, the Cardinal went back on top 9-8. Florida outscored Stanford 5-2 over the final 16:45 of the game to prevail, running out the final 10:15 after Cullen scored the team’s final goal.

UF advances to face the winner of No. 5 Duke/Pennsylvania in NCAA Tournament second-round action on Sat., May 21 at 3:00 p.m. The University of Florida will once again host the contest.

OGGOA EXTRA: 2011 NCAA Tournament Bracket (PDF)

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SIX BITS: awards, softball, lax, swimming, tennis

1 » There are plenty of spring sports underway right now, and the Florida Gators have gotten off to a fast start earning weekly conference honors. For the second-straight week, senior pitcher Stephanie Brombacher (softball) won the SEC Pitcher of the Week award; she tossed three shutouts in the last seven days and has a 0.00 ERA with 35 strikeouts through her first 31 innings of the season. Joining her is sophomore shortstop Nolan Fontana (baseball), who picked up the SEC Player of the Week award after going 9-for-12 and scoring five runs in his team’s season-opening series. Also making an impact was sophomore midfielder Kitty Cullen (lacrosse), who brought home the first ALC Offensive Player of the Week award in school history. She has scored 14 goals in only three games and tied a school record with six on Sunday alone.

2 » Undefeated going into the weekend, No. 5 Florida softball (9-0) completed a shutout sweep of the No. 22 North Carolina Tar Heels (4-4) from Saturday to Sunday. UF took down UNC 3-0 and 9-0 in two games Saturday and concluded their first three-game homestand of the season with a 10-0 win on Sunday at Katie Seashole Pressly Stadium in Gainesville, FL. Brombacher (6-0) tossed seven scoreless innings on Saturday and five more on Sunday, only giving up a total of nine hits and two walks over the contests. Freshman P Hannah Rogers (3-0) spelled her in between, allowing only two hits in her five shutout innings.

The Gators hit four home runs on Saturday alone; senior first baseman Megan Bush (4-7, HR, 6 RBI, 2 BB) and junior center fielder Michelle Moultrie (5-7, HR, 2 RBI) connected in the first game, while senior second baseman Aja Paculba (3-8, 3 RBI) and sophomore right fielder Kelsey Horton (1-5, 3 RBI) teed-off in the second contest. Florida’s scoring Sunday came from all over the place with senior left fielder Kelsey Bruder (2-8, 2 RBI, 4 R) leading the way with a homer, two RBI and three runs scored.

3 » Cullen’s six amazing goals on Sunday helped No. 17 Gators lacrosse (2-1) top the No. 20 Denver Pioneers (0-2) 15-7 at Donald R. Dizney Stadium in Gainesville. Assisting her was sophomore attacker Ashley Bruns who scored three goals and notched a career-high four assists on her way to seven points and a hat trick.

Read the rest of this SIX BITS post…after the break!
Continue Reading » SIX BITS: awards, softball, lax, swimming, tennis

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FOUR BITS: swimming, gymnastics, tennis win

1 » The third day of the 2011 Southeastern Conference Swimming Championships, held at the Stephen C. O’Connell Center in Gainesville, FL, was just as eventful for the Florida Gators as the previous two. Senior Conor Dwyer, who had already set three SEC records combined, broke yet another on Friday by swimming the 400-yard individual medley in 3:37.75. Freshman Elizabeth Beisel matched his accomplishment on the women’s side, also breaking the SEC record in the individual medley with a time of 4:00.35. Both competitors, in addition to now owning the top SEC mark in the event, broke the pool and school records in the event. Though both teams are performing well, neither leads their gender’s team category. Saturday is the final day of competition.

2 » Performing in their home finale Friday, No. 1 Florida gymnastics (8-0, 5-0 SEC) remained unbeaten by defeating the No. 22 Auburn Tigers (2-5, 2-4 SEC) 196.850-194.950. The Gators once again swept the event titles with sophomore Marissa King winning the vault (9.95), senior Maranda Smith taking the floor exercise (9.90), freshman Mackenzie Caquatto conquering the uneven bars (9.90) and both Caquatto and freshman Ashanée Dickerson winning the balance beam (9.875).

3 » Competing in the round of 16 at the 2011 ITA National Team Indoor Championships Friday, No. 2 Florida women’s tennis (8-0) defeated the No. 9 Miami Hurricanes (5-1) 4-1. No. 7 sophomore Allie Will, No. 19 junior Joanna Mather and No. 31 freshman Olivia Janowicz all won their singles matches with the No. 30 duo of sophomore Lauren Embree and Mather also taking home a doubles win. The No. 1 doubles pairing of Will and freshman Sofie Oyen did not finish their doubles match (which they led 7-3); No. 36 Embree and No. 40 freshman Alex Cercone were tied in their respective singles matches but also did not finish.

4 » Also victorious in the round of 16 at the ITA Team Indoor Championships on Friday was No. 10 Gators men’s tennis (7-1), which defeated the No. 7 Stanford Cardinal 4-3 and gave head coach Andy Jackson his 400th career victory. Though the No. 15 duo of senior Alexandre Lacroix and junior Nasslim Slilam fell to their No. 11-ranked opponents, No. 9 Lacroix’s three-set 7-5, 4-6, 6-3 victory over No. 7 Bradley Klahn, the defending NCAA singles champion, clinched the match for Florida. Slilam also lost his singles match, but No. 43 sophomore Sekou Bangoura, Jr. was victorious both on his own and when paired up with freshman Andrew Butz. The Gators will advance to the quarterfinals for the second-straight year.

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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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Florida Gators take second in 2010 Directors’ Cup

The University of Florida and its athletic program will finish second in the 2009-10 Learfield Sports Directors’ Cup when the standings are made official after baseball season, according to a release from the school. The second-place overall ranking – which ties a program-high (1997-98) – is fueled by 2010 NCAA National Championships in Men’s Indoor Track & Field and Women’s Swimming & Diving.

The annual national all-sports competition, as awarded by athletic directors across the country, recognizes schools with the best overall sports performances in an academic year. The honor has been owned by the University of Stanford in recent years.

With 1,237.25 total points, the Florida Gators placed a distant second, 271.25 points behind the winning Stanford Cardinal (1508.50). The title is Stanford’s 16th consecutive Director’s Cup, an absolutely dominating stretch.

Florida, however, “is the only program in the nation to finish among the nation’s top 10 in each of the last 27 national all-sports standings,” according to UF. The Gators’ 2009-10 finish is the first time the program has finished in the top three in back-to-back seasons (third, 2008-09). Additionally…

Florida’s 14 top-10 national team finishes in 2009-10, including nine in the top five, is a school record. The previous high of 12 top-10 finishes was equaled five times in the program’s history, including each of the last two seasons. This is the ninth consecutive year that 10 or more Gator athletic teams finished among the nation’s top 10.

Points are awarded based on which sports a school’s athletics program participates in and how said team finishes at the end of that sport’s season.

No other Southeastern Conference school finished in the top 10; however, Florida State University will be ranked No. 7 with 1,009.50 total points.

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Meyer consoles Boonstra after championship loss

Florida Gators senior tennis player Marrit Boonstra effectively lost the 2010 NCAA National Championship – that is, unfortunately, a fact. It is also the position she was put in by her teammates, who had tied their final match with the Stanford Cardinal 3-3 with Boonstra left as the only player still on the court.

Nevertheless, neither a single one of her teammates nor any Florida fans nor anyone in the athletic department blamed her for the loss – especially seeing as she took her opponent to the brink before falling 6-4, 6-7, 7-5 in a wild third set.

While Boonstra and her entire team were crushed, so was head football coach Urban Meyer, who was watching on television alongside his family back in Gainesville, FL. Rather than stand idly by as Boonstra wallowed in the outcome, Florida Today reports that he decided to do whatever he could to make her feel better.

“[Meyer called me and] told me he and his family had watched the match and they were all cheering and they were all so proud of me,” Boonstra told the paper. “That call made me feel a lot better. It helped me out a lot.”

That wasn’t all.

Meyer also went out of his way to send her a personal card, applauding her efforts and calling her “special.” “Every coach dreams of having a team of competitors,” Meyer wrote. “Unfortunately, there are not enough like you.”

Boonstra has since returned to her home country of The Netherlands and will do her best to compete internationally as a representative of Holland. She finished her Gators career with a fantastic 77-16 singles record, 60-9 dual match mark and 75-22 doubles record (24-4 this season with freshman Allie Will). Her championship match loss also ended a personal 17-match singles winning streak.

Photo Credit: University of Florida

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