FOUR BITS: baseball deals, tennis, Ball, Mudd

1 » A trio of now former Florida Gators baseball players signed professional contracts this week. Seniors second baseman Josh Adams and right-handed pitcher Matt Campbell agreed to their deals, and junior left-handed pitcher Nick Maronde gave up his final year of eligibility by choosing to play professionally in 2011. Adams, the No. 403 overall pick in the 13th round by the Florida Marlins, will begin his career with the Class A Jamestown Jammers (New York-Penn League). The No. 751 overall pick in the 24th round, Matt Campbell signed with the Philadelphia Phillies and will report to the rookie league Gulf Coast League Phillies. Maronde was picked the highest out of all his teammates as the Los Angeles Angels selected him with the No. 104 overall pick in the third round of the 2011 MLB Draft. He will head over to the Pioneer League’s Orem Owlz and try to work his way up the ranks.

2 » The 2011 USTA Collegiate Team was announced on Thursday and two Gators made the cut. Juniors No. 4 Lauren Embree and No. 9 Allie Will were selected for the team, which is funded by the USTA and administered in conjunction with the ITA. Players will have the chance to train and develop as they compete on the USTA Pro Circuit. Joining the duo, on the men’s side, is junior Sekou Bangoura, Jr..

3 » Florida sophomore linebacker Neiron Ball, still recovering from an arteriovenous malformation found in his brain in Feb., is expected to sit out the 2011 season as he continues to recover. The Orlando Sentinel’s Rachel George spoke this week with Ball’s brother-in-law, who told her that the player underwent “radial surgery” that was performed with the hope “that the malformation withers up and dies over time.” Having not practiced since the spring and unable to work out with the team, Ball would not be in shape to play in 2011 even if completely cleared by doctors. His brother-in-law confirmed this to the Sentinel but also provided good news about his overall heath. “He’s healthy. He’s fine,” he said. “He’s probably going to miss next season. […] We’re all appreciative to Coach [Will] Muschamp, the doctors, the staff, everybody.”

4 » Former Florida All-American golfer Jessie Mudd has turned in his orange for white after being named assistant men’s golf coach for the Kentucky Wildcats on Thursday. Mudd helped propel the Gators to three top-10 NCAA finishes and won multiple awards including notably being named co-SEC Freshman of the Year.

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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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FOUR BITS: Weekend filled with wins for Gators

1 » The Florida Gators’ No. 18 pairing of sophomore Allie Will and freshman Sofie Oyen captured the 2010 USTA/ITA National Intercollegiate Indoor Championship in women’s doubles over the weekend, defeating the Clemson Tigers’ No. 5 duo of Josipa Bek and Keri Wong 5-7, 6-3, 6-3 at the USTA-Billie Jean King National Tennis Complex in Flushing, NY, on Sunday. Will and Oyen got revenge over Bek and Wong, the only team to defeat them this season in their 11-1 campaign. Bek and Wong were victorious in Will and Oyen’s opening match of the season; since the loss they have won 11-straight contests.

2 » Having a more difficult time over the weekend was No. 1/1 Florida volleyball (22-1, 15-0 SEC), which remained undefeated in Southeastern Conference play after squeaking out a five-set victory (25-23, 18-25, 21-25, 25-23, 15-11) on the road against the Auburn Tigers (17-11, 8-8 SEC) at the Student Activities Center in Auburn, AL. Senior outside hitter Callie Rivers sparked the Gators offense with a double-double on a season-high 15 kills and 13 digs. Sophomore right-side/setter Kelly Murphy contributed another double-double (her 10th in a row) with 11 kills and 25 assists; junior outside hitter Kristy Jaeckel added nine kills and 10 digs, and senior middle blocker Lauren Bledsoe accounted for season-highs in kills (12) and blocks (9).

3 » Gators sophomore tennis player Bob van Overbeek won the Texas Invitational singles title on Sunday, defeating Oklahoma’s Peerakit Siributwong in straight sets (6-1, 6-3) in Austin, TX.

4 » On this day 80 years ago, Florida Field opened to the public with Florida taking on on Alabama. Though it would be re-named Ben Hill Griffin Stadium just under 59 years later, the traditions all began on this day. Here are just a few other things that happened in 1930: the Great Depression, Mickey Mouse was invented, Scotch Tape was created, Mahatma Gandhi protested the British monopoly on salt, Constantinople became Istanbul, Twinkies were invented, the first night game in baseball history was played, and George Washington was added to Mount Rushmore.

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FOUR BITS: Impressive weekend for UF women

1 » No. 12 Florida Gators soccer (14-2-2, 8-1-1 SEC) moved one step closer to earning the Southeastern Conference regular season title with a 3-1 victory over the Arkansas Razorbacks (5-10-3, 2-6-2 SEC) Sunday afternoon at James G. Pressly Stadium in Gainesville, FL. Florida, which is tied atop the SEC with No. 18 South Carolina, will play in a de facto championship game against them on the road to end the season on Fri., Oct. 29. Sunday’s victory came on the heels of three goals from the Gators. Sophomore midfielder Holly King got things started at 14:31 with a header, but Arkansas’ Ally Atkins tied it up at 53:35 with an eight-yard strike. Florida would have none of that, scoring on a goal from junior MF Sarah Chapman (her first of the season) at 62:58 and a 10-yard bullet from redshirt sophomore MF McKenzie Barney at 67:33 to put it away.

2 » Continuing their stellar play with another shutout victory on Sunday at home in the Stephen C. O’Connell Center, No. 1/1 Gators volleyball (18-1, 11-0 SEC) rolled the Kentucky Wildcats (11-11, 5-7 SEC) to win their 13th-straight match 3-0 (25-21, 28-26, 25-13). Junior right-side/setter Kelly Murphy led Florida by posting yet another double-double thanks to a match-high 12 kills and 16 assists. UF’s next match – against South Carolina on Wed., Oct. 27 – will begin at 7 p.m. and air live on ESPNU.

3 » Due to stellar play throughout the event, the only players remaining in the ITA Women’s Tennis Southeast Regional represent Florida. The Gators will have to go head-to-head in both the singles and doubles finals for the event in order to earn a qualifying spot in the USTA/ITA National Intercollegiate Indoor Championships. Freshmen Alex Cercone and Olivia Janowicz will go head-to-head in the singles final while the pair of sophomore Allie Will and freshman Sofie Oyen will face off against junior Joanna Mather and sophomore Carolina Hitimana in the doubles championship. Both matches will begin at 3 p.m. on Monday and be played at the Dan Magill Tennis Complex in Athens, GA.

4 » Freshman forward Cody Larson, who committed to Florida on April 20 during a slew of new signings by head coach Billy Donovan, is contrite and regretful yet ready to move on after a tough end to his high school career. According to court documents, Larson was found with Hydocodone (pain killer) in his home during an investigation into extensive prescription drug use at his school and was charged with a misdemeanor for being in a room where it was known that drugs were stored and utilized. Accepting a plea deal, he received two years of probation and was ordered to volunteer three days a week until he left his hometown of Sioux Falls, SD, for Gainesville.

The Gainesville Sun‘s Kevin Brockway caught up with him recently and discussed his community service work. “It was a real humbling experience,” Larson said of working at homeless shelters and group homes. “I’ve moved past it though. I’ve learned a valuable lesson from it and I’m kind of just moving on. […] [I learned] not to take anything for granted. Appreciate the opportunities I have, especially at Florida. […] I’ve learned some lessons and I’ve made some changes in my life.”

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TWO BITS: soccer, volleyball victorious; Lacroix

1 » No. 7 Florida Gators soccer (8-1-1, 2-0 SEC) continued its hot start over the weekend with a pair of 2-0 road victories against the Kentucky Wildcats (6-3, 0-1 SEC) on Friday and the Vanderbilt Commodores (4-5-1, 0-1-1 SEC) on Sunday. Friday’s contest saw sophomore midfielder/forward Erika Tymrak (47’) and junior MF/F Tahnai Annis (81’) with goals, while freshman F Taylor Travis (14’) and redshirt sophomore MF McKenzie Barney (79’) contributed scores on Sunday. Redshirt senior goalkeeper Katie Franie broke Jordan Kellgren’s (1999-2002) Florida career solo shutouts record with her 22nd on Sunday. The Gators return home for a pair of matches this weekend, facing Mississippi State on Friday and Ole Miss on Sunday.

2 » Also performing well over the weekend was No. 3 Florida volleyball (10-1, 3-0 SEC), which defeated the Ole Miss Rebels (9-4, 3-1 SEC) 3-0 (25-18, 25-19, 25-19) on Sunday in the Stephen C. O’Connell Center. Junior middle-back Cassandra Anderson and sophomore right-side Tangerine Wiggs notched a combined 16 kills and five blocks to lead the Gators. Junior RS/setter Kelly Murphy continued her streak of significantly contributing to her team’s victory with six kills, five digs, two blocks and a team-high 18 assists. Senior outside hitter Callie Rivers added 10 digs and seven kills.

Extra BIT » Florida senior tennis player, No. 9 Alexandre Lacroix, won the 2010 Napa Valley Classic title on Sunday, defeating No. 8 Eric Quigley of Kentucky 10-6 in the final. Lacroix combined to win his three matches 30-15 at earned a USTA wild card for a future event with his victory.

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