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Home Grown Florida Gator Women Beat Stanford for NCAA Tennis Championship

May 25, 2011 12:54 PM
embree-ncaa final
Lauren Embree
Led by four native Florida junior players, the University of Florida women’s tennis team came from behind on Tuesday to defeat Stanford 4-3 for the 2011 NCAA Tennis Championship at Taube Tennis Stadium on the campus of Stanford University.
 
Sophomore Lauren Embree (Marco Island, Fla.) provided the clinching come-from-behind heroics, trailing 0-4 in the third set in the last match on court, but rebounding to force a tiebreak and defeat No. 22-ranked Mallory Burdette 5-7, 6-3, 7-6(6) to secure the team win for Florida.
 
The Gators overcame the defending champs and a vocal and at times hostile home crowd, which according to Head Coach Roland Thornqvist made the victory all the sweeter.
 
“I don’t know what it looked like on TV or in the stands,  [but] that took about 10 years off my life,” Thornqvist said. “It’s really difficult to win here. It took a gutsy performance and everything we had to push us through to victory. Thankfully we had the superstar [Embree] at the end who has the best wheels in the game. She’s the toughest player I’ve ever coached… Playing in front of 2,000 fans screaming against you, it was tough. Our freshmen were outstanding this week. That proved to be the difference. Alex Cercone went 4-0 this week and that’s tough to do.”
  
The Cardinals lost the doubles point, but quickly jumped out to a lead in the singles when Stanford senior and third-ranked Hilary Barte defeated Gator sophomore and Allie Will (Boca Raton, Fla.), 6-2, 6-4, and Cardinal Nicole Gibbs defeated Gator Sofie Oyen, 6-4, 7-5.
 
Stanford went up 3-1 in the team score when Cardinal Stacey Tan came from a set down to beat Gator captain Joanna Mather (Duluth, Ga.), 3-6, 6-2, 6-4. Cercone (Seminole, Fla.) rallied for a 4-6, 6-1, 6-4 win against Veroncia Li, closing the gap to 3-2 in the team score. She won her singles in the last five NCAA matches, the only Gator to do so. The score was evened at 3-3 after Olivia Janowicz (Palm Bay, Fla.) defeated Carolyn McVeigh 6-1 in the third set, setting the stage for Embree’s heroics.
 
The second-seeded Gators (31-1) earned their fifth national team title, while ending top-seeded Stanford’s (28-1) NCAA-record 184 consecutive home-match win streak and its 47-match overall win streak. Stanford had not lost at home since Feb. 27, 1999 in a 5-4 loss to Cal.
 
Andy Gladstone, USTA Florida Competitive Coordinator, saw Embree as well as the other three native Florida players on the team come up through the USTA Florida tournament system.
 
“It was so amazing,” Gladstone said. “They were down 3-1 and Lauren, who played Zonals, Intersectionals, Mills Redgrave, State Closed, was down 4-0 in the final set. The girl is amazing…a modern-day Chris Evert. It was so exciting to see all these Florida girls win. My kids played in a number of Campus Play Days in Gainesville and the team was always so kind to them.”
 
For Thornqvist it is his second NCAA Championship after leading the Gators to the 2003 NCAA title played in Gainesville.
 
“My first one, it was just my second year at Florida and my head was still spinning,” Thornqvist said. “I was just so excited to be at Florida, I don’t know if I enjoyed it that much. This one is certainly very special.”
 
Embree, who was named the NCAA Tournament Most Outstanding Performer, completed the dual match portion of the season with a perfect 24-0 singles record. She will continue action on Wednesday in the first round of the NCAA Singles Championships.
 
The 2011 event marked the eighth time Florida and Stanford squared off in the NCAA Final, with the Cardinals winning five of those matches and the Gators capturing the title in 1996, 2003 and now 2011.
 
 

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