Florida Women’s Tennis Defeats Stanford for Fifth NCAA Team Championship
Courtesy: Florida Athletics
STANFORD, Calif. – Sophomore Lauren Embree (Marco Island, Fla.) rallied from a 4-0 deficit in the third set, forced a tiebreaker, where she overcame a 2-0 hole and earned a 5-7, 6-3, 7-6 (8-6) victory and provided the clinching 4-3 win against top-seeded Stanford and helped Florida win the 2011 NCAA Championship on Tuesday at Taube Tennis Stadium on the campus of Stanford University.
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 has not lost at home since Feb. 27, 1999 in a 5-4 loss to Cal and had not dropped a decision since a loss at UCLA on Feb. 26, 2010.
The title is the Florida athletics program 26th national team championship and second this season with the men’s track and field team winning the NCAA Indoor title.
“I don’t know what it looked like on TV or in the stands, that took about 10 years off my life,” said head coach Roland Thornqvist, who guided the Gators to his second national championship in his 10-year tenure at UF. “We played phenomenal doubles that really set the tone. Today we really found out how Stanford has a 10-year winning streak. 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 (Lauren Embree) at the end who has the best wheels in the game. She’s the toughest player I’ve ever coached.
“We knew this was going to be very difficult,” Thornqvist said. “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.”
Thornqvist also led 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 shared. “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. To be able to do it here at Stanford in front of 2,000 hostile fans with probably the hardest-working team I’ve ever had is very, very rewarding.”
On Tuesday, the Gators won the doubles point with impressive play at all three positions and took a 1-0 team lead.
The Cardinal quickly regrouped on the singles court, where the hosts jumped out and won the first set on five of the six courts.
Stanford senior and third-ranked Hilary Barte was the first to finish, as she defeated Gator sophomore and seventh-ranked Allie Will (Boca Raton, Fla.), 6-2, 6-4, and evened the team scoring at 1-all. The loss snapped Will’s 15-match win streak and marked only her second dual match singles loss this season. There were seven breaks in the second set, and Barte managed the last to break Will in the final game to take the straight-set decision.
Stanford then took a 2-1 lead when 18th-ranked Nicole Gibbs defeated 91st-ranked Sofie Oyen, 6-4, 7-5 on court three. The Gator rookie had a break for 4-3 in the second set, but Gibbs broke and held for a 5-4 lead. Oyen held, as did Gibbs, but the Cardinal earned one final break to win the match.
Alex Cercone (Seminole, Fla.) provided the Gators with a singles victory, as she rallied for a 4-6, 6-1, 6-4 win against Veroncia Li and her 14th consecutive decision. The win, which closed the gap to 3-2 in the team score, was her team-best 37th singles victory. Cercone opened the final set with a break and held for a 2-0 lead. Li broke and held before Cercone also held and the set was even at 3-all. Cercone collected another break and aced on game point to a 5-3 lead. She then broke again and held for the win. Cercone has won her singles match in the last five NCAA matches, the only Gator to do so.
Stanford then put itself one step closer to the title, when Stacey Tan found a way to take out Gator captain Joanna Mather (Duluth, Ga.), 3-6, 6-2, 6-4, on court four and take a 3-1 lead in the team score.
The attention then turned to court two, where Lauren Embree was battling 22nd-ranked Mallory Burdette and hero of last year’s 4-3 Stanford win, as well as a vocal and hostile Cardinal crowd. Embree trailed 4-0 in the third set, before ripping off the next four games to even the frame and headed to the baseline to serve, where she lost just one point to take a miraculous 5-4 lead.
While the hoards of fans moved to the stadium courts to watch what it felt would be the clinching decision with Burdette’s large lead, Olivia Janowicz (Palm Bay, Fla.) was quietly leading her third set against Carolyn McVeigh, 5-0.
Embree then drew up double-match point against Burdette’s serve, but couldn’t finish either, as the Cardinal won four straight points to win the game and keep the match alive. Embree then lost just one point on her serve for a 6-5 lead.
She then won the first two points of Burdette’s service game, as Janowicz drew up double-match point on court six.
Burdette rallied to win the next three points, with the third clipping the net-cord and falling into open space and later the fourth point to force a tiebreak.
At the start of the tiebreak, Janowicz polished off her 6-7, 6-3, 6-1 victory and tied the team match at 3-all. The win was the Gator rookie’s 19th consecutive victory.
“This is honestly better than anything I could have ever dreamed,” said Janowicz of winning the national championship. “I don’t even know how to describe how I’m feeling.”
Embree fell behind 2-0 in the tiebreak but won four straight points and took control. Burdette held her next serve for 4-3 and then evened the match at 4-all. Embree won the next two and set up double-match point, but Burdette fought off both and tied the breaker at 6-all. Embree then dug deep and won the next two points for the 5-7, 6-3, 7-6 (8-6) victory and the championship.
Embree actually jumped out to a 5-1 lead in the first set, but Burdette ripped off the next six games and whipped the Stanford crowd into a frenzy, as it propelled her to a 3-1 lead in the second behind a pair of breaks. Embree calmed and wore down the hard-hitting Cardinal and she broke in the seventh game en route to taking the second set and forcing a third.
“It was so up and down,” Embree shared about her match. “I got off to a really good start. Mallory just started to play better and better as the match went on. In the second set I knew if I hung in there and could get a break and that’s what happened. I got off to a really slow start in the third. Honestly, I really just wanted to stay out there and fight for my team. Joanna (Mather) was down a set and 5-0 (in Monday’s NCAA Semifinal match) and I knew that if she could do it, I could do it. I wanted to fight as long as I could and I came out with the win.
“I had different thoughts racing through my mind when I was down 4-0 in the third,” Embree shared. “I kept fighting. I knew I still had a chance no matter what the score was.”
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, as she will continue action on Wednesday in the first round of the NCAA Singles Championships.
“Lauren is one of the players who you can always depend on,” Cercone said. “Sometimes you don’t want to depend on a player and put pressure on anybody, but it came down to that today. We knew, I knew that Lauren was going to pull it out because the heart that she has. I had incredible faith in her and I’m proud that she did what she did today.”
Florida was very impressive on the doubles court, where all three teams earned early breaks and held comfortable leads throughout play.
The Gator’s number two team of Lauren Embree (Marco Island, Fla.) and Sofie Oyen (Leopoldsburg, Belgium) continued its quick work as it provided the first win of the championship with an 8-3 victory against Nicole Gibbs and Veronica Li in 37 minutes. Embree and Oyen capped their inaugural season together with a 9-0 record, netting a win in each of the last five NCAA matches for the Gators.
Florida’s number three tandem of Caroline Hitimana (Waterloo, Belgium) and Joanna Mather (Duluth, Ga.) provided the clinching doubles point for the third consecutive match, this time downing Carolyn McVeigh and Stacey Tan, 8-3. The pair had not played together since November, but reunited in the NCAA Quarterfinal round and has been a key to Florida’s doubles success at the championship site.
Alex Cercone (Seminole, Fla.) and Allie Will (Boca Raton, Fla.) were leading their match against Hilary Barte and Mallory Burdette when play was abandoned.
Florida also won the doubles point at last year’s NCAA Final, before the Cardinals rallied to collect four singles victories en route to the 4-3 decision.
The Gators had not lost a dual match this year when winning the doubles point.
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.
Florida, which ended the year on a 21-match winning streak, posted the 875th win in the program’s 39th season of varsity action, taking the all-time record to an impressive 875-128.
2011 NCAA Women's All-Tournament Team
Most Outstanding Player: Lauren Embree, FLORIDA
No. 1 Singles: Hilary Barte, Stanford
No. 2 Singles: Lauren Embree, FLORIDA
No. 3 Singles: Nicole Gibbs, Stanford
No. 4 Singles: Jelena Staivuk, Baylor
No. 5 Singles: Alex Cercone, FLORIDA
No. 6 Singles: Carolyn McVeigh, Stanford
No. 1 Doubles: Hilary Barte/Mallory Burdette, Stanford
No. 2 Doubles: Lauren Embree/Sofie Oyen, FLORIDA
No. 3 Doubles: Diana Nakic/Sona Novakova, Baylor
NCAA Women’s Tennis Championships Final
#2 Seed Florida at #1 Seed Stanford
Taube Tennis Stadium * Stanford, Calif.
Tuesday, May 24, 2011
Final Score: Florida 4, Stanford 3
1. (2) Alex Cercone/Allie Will, UF led (3) Hilary Barte/Mallory Burdette, SU, 6-3 DNF
2. (45) Lauren Embree/Sofie Oyen, UF d. Nicole Gibbs/Veronica Li, SU, 8-3
3. (37) Caroline Hitimana/Joanna Mather, UF d. (74) Carolyn McVeigh/Stacey Tan, SU, 8-3*
Order of Finish: 2, 3*
1. (3) Hilary Barte, SU d. (7) Allie Will, UF, 6-2, 6-4
2. (17) Lauren Embree, UF d. (22) Mallory Burdette, SU, 5-7, 6-3, 7-6 (6)*
3. (18) Nicole Gibbs, SU d. (91) Sofie Oyen, UF, 6-4, 7-5
4. (43) Stacey Tan, SU d. (42) Joanna Mather, UF, 3-6, 6-2, 6-4
5. (54) Alex Cercone, UF d. Veroncia Li, SU, 4-6, 6-1, 6-4
6. (53) Olivia Janowicz, UF d. Carolyn McVeigh, SU, 6-7 (6), 6-3, 6-1
Order of Finish: 1, 3, 4, 5, 6, 2*
Updated records: Florida 31-1, Stanford 28-1