With football and basketball both in the spotlight and Florida Gators gymnastics winning a third straight NCAA National Championship last week, it was easy to overlook two other tremendous accomplishments made by Gators athletic programs in the form of regular-season league titles won this month.
1 » Miami Hurricanes athletic director Blake James recently told The Miami Herald’s Barry Jackson that he had a conversation with Florida Gators AD Jeremy Foley about renewing the football series between the two teams. James said Foley was “receptive” to the idea, a word used by Jackson, though the latter insisted that the Gators would only be amenable to playing the Canes in a neutral-site contest. “I would have to think about Orlando,” James told the paper. “That’s not real neutral but it’s an easy distance to our campus.” Foley wants Florida-Miami at a neutral site for a number of reasons. The Gators already lose a home game every other year with Florida-Georgia being played in Jacksonville. UM also neither provides UF with a fair allotment of tickets nor quality locations for those seats in the 76,000-seat Sun Life Stadium. Considering the Gators have the largest base of alumni in South Florida, that is not a winning combination for the school. A neutral-site game would allow the schools to split ticketing and revenues evenly while potentially creating a new, exciting tradition.
From time to time, OnlyGators.com will come across a plethora of news and notes that we wish to share – too much to fit into one of our truncated BITS segments. When stories like these fall through the cracks, we catch and wrap them all up with Gator Bites.
» Returns from the first two days of practice ahead of the 2014 Senior Bowl have been positive for the three Florida Gators in attendance with cornerback and OnlyGators.com Path to the Draft blogger Jaylen Watkins drawing the most rave reviews on Tuesday. “Watkins balled out today,” said Scout.com’s Jamie Newberg. “Had [a] pick, caused fumble & at least five [pass breakups].” Concurred CBSSports.com’s Dane Brugler: “Watkins is one of the better players here that isn’t much talked about. I’m a big fan.” An AFC scout in attendance at the practices told OnlyGators.com that his team already has Watkins pegged as a potential second day draft selection.
» The first day of the inaugural all-star draft for the 2014 Pro Bowl was held on Tuesday with Miami Dolphins center Mike Pouncey going off the board as the first player chosen at his position. He will play for Team (Deion) Sanders. The second half of the draft will be held on Wednesday with Cleveland Browns cornerback Joe Haden waiting to be picked.
» San Francisco 49ers defensive lineman Ray McDonald tore his biceps tendon in Week 6 but played through the injury all the way up until his team fell in the NFC Championship on Sunday. Now done for the season, McDonald is scheduled to have the tendon reattached with a surgery upcoming, according to the Sacramento Bee.
Check out NINE more Gators news bites…after the break!
Continue Reading » 12 Gator Bites for Wednesday, January 22
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.”
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.”
Florida Gators senior tennis player Lauren Embree was named the 2013 ITA National Senior Player of the Year on Tuesday.
Just the third player in school history to receive the honor (Nicole Arendt in 1991, Jessica Lehnhoff in 2002), Embree is the reigning 2012 ITA/Rivera Women’s All-American Singles Champion. She is currently ranked No. 1 by the ITA and was announced on Tuesday as the No. 1 overall seed in the 2013 NCAA Singles Tournament, which opens play on Wednesday.
Embree is also a three-time Southeastern Conference Player of the Year (2010-12).
She has led Florida to four-straight Southeastern Conference regular-season titles (2009-12), four consecutive SEC Tournament crowns (2009-12) and back-to-back NCAA National Championships (2011-12) with her singles victories clinching both national titles for the Gators.
In NCAA dual match play, Embree is Florida’s career leader in singles wins (15-1), doubles wins (19-3), combined wins (34-4) and combined winning percentage (.895). She usually played her best when it meant the most for the Gators.
Photo Credit: Ron Irby/Tampa Bay Times
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.
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.