Florida women's tennis team wins NCAA Championship
A couple of weeks ago, Florida women's tennis coach Roland Thornqvist was asked whether he would show his team any video or have much conversation about last year's NCAA Championship - a match the Gators lost in the final game. Thornqvist said he would not. The past, he said, is best left in the past.
Florida won the doubles point at last year’s NCAA Final, before Stanford rallied to collect four singles victories en route to the 4-3
decision. For awhile Tuesday night, it appeared as if the Gators' past was coming back to haunt them once again. But this time around, Florida prevailed.
Sophomore Lauren Embree rallied from a 4-0 deficit in the third set, forced a tiebreaker, then overcame a 2-0 hole for a 5-7, 6-3, 7-6 (8-6) victory - a win that provided the clinching 4-3 win against top-seeded host Stanford and helped Florida win the 2011 NCAA Championship on at Taube Tennis Stadium at Stanford University.
The second-seeded Gators (31-1) earned their fifth national team title, while ending Stanford’s (28-1) NCAA-record 184 consecutive home-match win streak. With the win, Florida now has 26 national team championships, the second this season along 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 UF head coach Roland Thornqvist, who
guided the Gators to his second national championship in his 10-year tenure at UF - the first in 2003. “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.''
Embree and Sofie Oyen 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, earning a win in each of the last five NCAA matches for the Gators.
Embree fell behind 2-0 in the tiebreak but won four straight points and took control. Then Mallory 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.
“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.”
Photo: Kathy Cafazzo, UF Communications