Sunday, June 17, 2018
Colleges

Lauren Embree leads Gators in NCAA tennis

GAINESVILLE — The first time Lauren Embree walked into the University of Florida tennis complex, coach Roland Thornqvist said he immediately sensed something different.

"From the first day she arrived here, you could tell there was something special about her," Thornqvist said. "And it just elevates everyone around her, including me."

Embree came with lofty junior tennis credentials, and she had an aura that led Thornqvist to believe she would do great things at Florida. He calls it "the Tiger Woods effect," elevating opponents and teammates. Four years later, Embree has proven that hunch to be correct.

The senior from Marco Island closed out her SEC singles career with a 38-0 record. She has been named SEC player of the year three times in four years, the first three-time winner in the 21 years of the award.

Embree also is a three-time singles All-American and was voted most outstanding player in the past two NCAA championships. The No. 1-ranked singles player in the nation this year, she leads the two-time defending national champion Gators into Friday's NCAA tournament round of 16 with 17 doubles victories in tournament dual matches, the most in UF history. She is 116-14 in career singles.

"It's been amazing, and I've really overexceeded all my expectations in college," Embree said. "I just wanted to win a championship, wanted to win the SEC. And we've done that. So everything else is just kind of like a bonus to me. It's so much fun."

Embree began playing tennis with her father and older brother when she was about 5. Her father is a former University of Tampa tennis player. Her brother played at Florida State.

Embree was the No. 2 overall prospect when she signed out of Lely High in Naples, and many teammates knew exactly what UF was getting.

"I always knew she was a top-caliber player just because I had seen her play in the same tournaments that I was playing," said Florida junior Alex Cercone, of Seminole. "When you get to see it firsthand, it really shows how tough of a competitor she is and how hard she works."

At 5 feet 6, Embree doesn't possess an overpowering backhand or a power serve, and she isn't going to blow an opponent off the court.

"I think a lot of it is just fighting for every point," Embree said, "and just scrapping and grinding, all the little things that go with tennis — wearing people down and just fighting, just continuing to fight even when you know everything's not going right."

It's her highly competitive nature that makes her dominant, teammates said.

"She has an extremely good sense of anticipation, which I've never seen from anybody," junior Olivia Janowicz said. "She fights and runs like crazy. In the big moments, she just knows that she cannot miss."

Embree has dominated the sport more than any other Gators player. Thornqvist has called her the greatest four-year player in the history of college tennis.

She sealed her place in Gator lore as a sophomore when she rallied from a 4-0 third-set deficit to defeat Stanford's Mallory Burdette for the dual-match-clinching win in the NCAA team final. That year, she missed eight months after wrist surgery.

"That just tells you how tough this player really is," Thornqvist said.

Embree resists the talk of greatness, shies away from the accolades. She will tell you she works extremely hard and is proud of her accomplishments. And she'll tell you she couldn't have done it without help.

"It's been unbelievable, the career I've had," Embree said. "The friendships I've made here, the people that I've gotten to meet, my coaches. … These seven girls on this team are my best friends. I'm just so blessed."

Comments
Florida’s Brady Singer voted top college baseball player of year

Florida’s Brady Singer voted top college baseball player of year

OMAHA, Neb. — Florida pitcher Brady Singer has won the Dick Howser Trophy as college baseball's player of the year.Singer, who received the award Friday, carries a 12-1 record and 2.30 ERA into the College World Series, which begins Saturday. T...
Published: 06/15/18
Former Plant QB Rex Culpepper cancer-free; ready to return to Syracuse lineup

Former Plant QB Rex Culpepper cancer-free; ready to return to Syracuse lineup

SYRACUSE, N.Y. — Rex Culpepper is back. The smile on his face said it all. The redshirt sophomore quarterback had his first full workout with Syracuse on Friday after overcoming testicular cancer. He said he broke down and cried when he was told he w...
Published: 06/15/18
Willie Taggart comes clean on the origin of ‘Do Something’

Willie Taggart comes clean on the origin of ‘Do Something’

During his question-and-answer session with more than 500 Manatee-Sarasota boosters Monday evening, FSU's Willie Taggart was peppered with the normal inquiries about recruiting, offensive scheme and the Seminoles' quarterback derby.All well and good....
Published: 06/12/18
When Willie Taggart filled in for Tommie Frazier at Manatee High

When Willie Taggart filled in for Tommie Frazier at Manatee High

It would have been easy — expected, even — for Willie Taggart to be nervous when he started in place of the injured Tommie Frazier as Manatee High's starting quarterback in 1991.Nope. Taggart wasn't, even though he was the first...
Published: 06/12/18
FSU football coach Willie Taggart gets local hero’s welcome

FSU football coach Willie Taggart gets local hero’s welcome

SARASOTA — He slithered and scrambled his way into the local consciousness in the fall of 1991.Manatee High's Willie Taggart, 145 pounds in a sopping jersey, suddenly found himself with the keys to the Hurricanes' ruthlessly efficient opti...
Published: 06/11/18
Updated: 06/12/18
Florida Gators add West Virginia grad transfer Adam Shuler

Florida Gators add West Virginia grad transfer Adam Shuler

Former West Virginia defensive lineman Adam Shuler announced Monday that he plans to join the Gators as a graduate transfer.Shuler, a 6-foot-4, 268-pound Longwood native, started 10 games for the Mountaineers last season. As a redshirt sophomore, he ...
Published: 06/11/18
Florida State’s Jessica Warren lives ‘every senior’s dream’ with Women’s College World Series title

Florida State’s Jessica Warren lives ‘every senior’s dream’ with Women’s College World Series title

OKLAHOMA CITY — Jessie Warren’s career finished just the way she envisioned it. On Monday night, Florida State’s star third baseman made perhaps the play of her career, a diving catch and throw for a double play that helped preserve a 1-0 win over Wa...
Published: 06/06/18
Florida Gators hire former Auburn AD Jay Jacobs

Florida Gators hire former Auburn AD Jay Jacobs

Former Auburn athletic director Jay Jacobs is joining Florida as its executive associate athletic director, the Gators announced Tuesday afternoon."Florida Athletics is fortunate to have someone of Jay's caliber joining the (University Athletic Assoc...
Published: 06/05/18
What Mississippi State says about Dan Mullen’s September homecoming

What Mississippi State says about Dan Mullen’s September homecoming

I haven't yet ranked every college football game in the state (as I did last year), but here's a spoiler: Dan Mullen's return to Starkville on Sept. 29 will be very high.The Florida Gators' new coach hasn't shied away from his Mississippi State homec...
Published: 06/05/18
Ray Lewis, Lomas Brown, Simeon Rice among College Football Hall of Fame nominees

Ray Lewis, Lomas Brown, Simeon Rice among College Football Hall of Fame nominees

Eleven former players/coaches with state ties are up for consideration for the College Football Hall of Fame.Notables notables on the ballot, released Monday morning, include:Florida OT Lomas Brown: 1984 All-American and two-time all-SEC talent helpe...
Published: 06/04/18