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.

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FOUR BITS: Tebow/Meyer, Hunter, Embree, tennis

1 » Though not by any means a definitive statement nor something set in stone, Denver Broncos and former Florida Gators quarterback Tim Tebow made an interesting comment while in Vero Beach, FL speaking about his faith and football career. Tebow told TCPalm.com’s Laurie K. Blandford that he expects former Florida head coach Urban Meyer to return to coaching at some point…but in a different conference.

Tebow also said he thinks Meyer will come back to coaching, but not in the Southeastern Conference. “He definitely loves coaching,” Tebow said, “so he’ll be back soon.”

2 » In an interview with ESPN.com, Gators redshirt junior defensive lineman Omar Hunter explained that he is in the process of losing weight and fighting through injuries but is doing whatever it takes to prove himself to the new coaching staff in order to get plenty of time on the field in 2011. So far it seems to be working. “The message I tried to send was that I was going to be there whether I was hurt or not,” he said. “I’m always going to have their backs and I’m always going to push through injuries for them.”

3 » Three members of Florida’s 2011 NCAA Championship women’s tennis team have advanced to the quarterfinals of the 2011 NCAA Individual Championships. No. 17 sophomore Lauren Embree, competing in singles action, swatted No. 63 Leslie Hureau of Indiana 6-1, 6-0 on Friday to move on and extender her 27-match singles winning streak. She will square off against California’s No. 23 Mari Andersson on Saturday at Taube Tennis Center in Stanford, CA. No. 7 sophomore Allie Will was not as lucky, falling 6-3, 6-7(5), 7-6(3) in singles action to No. 18 Nicole Gibbs of Stanford. However, the No. 2 doubles team of Will and freshman Alex Cercone are still alive after defeating Arkansas’ No. 14 duo of Claudine Paulson and Anouk Tigu 6-2, 6-3 on Friday.

4 » On the men’s side, No. 6 senior Alexandre Lacroix fell in the second round of the championships in singles action, dropping a 6-4, 2-6, 6-4 match to Jose Hernandez of North Carolina. Not all is lost for Lacroix, who is part of the No. 17 doubles team with sophomore Sekou Bangoura, Jr. The duo have reached the NCAA quarterfinals after taking down the LSU’s No. 8 team of Sebastian Carlsson and Neal Skupski 6-2, 5-7, 7-5 on Friday. Lacroix and Bangoura will face Louisville’s pair of Austen Childs and Viktor Maksimcuk on Saturday in the Elite Eight.

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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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Gators tennis in the 2011 NCAA Tournament: Women advance to Elite Eight, men eliminated

The Florida Gators tennis program faced split results at the Taube Tennis Center Stanford, CA. The No. 2 women’s team advanced to the Elite Eight round of the 2011 NCAA Tournament, while the No. 8 men were eliminated during Sweet 16 competition.

The Florida women (28-1) lasted through a nail-biter against the No. 15 Clemson Tigers (20-11), defeating them 4-1 with a number of singles matches close until the end.

The Gators started the afternoon by winning the doubles point. The No. 45 pairing of sophomore Lauren Embree and freshman Sofie Oyen earned an 8-3 victory to start Florida off, and the No. 2 duo of sophomore Allie Will and freshman Alex Cercone took down the No. 6 team of Josipa Bek and Keri Wong 8-6 to clinch the point.

Singles action was even tighter. Clemson took the first point as Oyen was beaten 6-3, 6-3, but UF closed the match out with three-straight victories. No. 17 Embree defeated No. 48 Wong (4-6, 6-1, 6-4), and No. 42 junior Joanna Mather fought back to beat No. 114 Nelly Ciolkowski (0-6, 6-4, 6-3). With the match in her hands, No. 54 Cercone won the hardest fought match, capturing a 6-7 (5), 6-4, 7-6 (4) victory to clinch the win.

The Gators have now won 18-straight matches and are set to face Miami (FL) in Elite Eight action on Sunday, May 22 at 3 p.m.

The Florida men (20-9) were not as fortunate on Thursday, falling 4-2 to the Kentucky Wildcats in the round of 16. Kentucky captured the doubles point to start the match and was led by the No. 19 duo of Brad Cox and Eric Quigley, which defeated UF’s No. 17 pairing of senior Alexandre Lacroix and sophomore Sekou Bangoura, Jr. 8-5.

The Wildcats also took the first singles point as No. 90 Alberto Gonzalez beat No. 118 sophomore Bob van Overbeek 6-1, 6-2, but the Gators responded with No. 7 Lacroix topping No. 6 Quigley 6-2, 6-4. No. 40 Bangoura, Jr. took down Cox 6-4, 62 to tie the match 2-2, but Kentucky won the final two match-ups to prevail.

Though the men’s team is no longer in competition, Lacroix and Bangoura will compete in the 2011 NCAA Individual Championships with singles action beginning Wed., May 25 and doubles action starting Thurs., May 26.

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