UF women's tennis team repeats title
Published: Tuesday, May 22, 2012 at 4:09 p.m.
Last Modified: Tuesday, May 22, 2012 at 6:10 p.m.
ATHENS, Ga. — Compared to its semifinal struggle against Duke on Monday, Florida's march to its second consecutive NCAA women's national tennis championship was practically a walk in the park.
Less than 24 hours after surviving a no-holds-barred 4-3 victory over the Blue Devils that took nearly five hours to complete, the No. 2 Gators on Tuesday took a 4-0 victory over No. 1 UCLA that appeared as painless as the score indicated.
"I really think all those wind sprints, all the grass workouts, all the Gator Mountains, all those things that were painful certainly paid off," said Florida coach Roland Thornqvist, whose team won its 22nd consecutive match.
"Because without them, we could not have rebounded from yesterday's humongous battle against Duke and be as fresh as we were today. I thought we were absolutely fantastic and outstanding from start to finish."
"This feels great," added Florida Athletics Director Jeremy Foley. "It's why we do what we do. We try to win some championships and obviously, it's hard to do. We were very fortunate to win that match yesterday, and it could have gone another way and we don't make it here today. It's fun to watch this coach and see how hard he works and these athletes and see how hard they work and see them win it."
In stark contrast to Monday, Florida (27-1) dispatched the Bruins (26-3) in a little less than three hours as Lauren Embree recorded match point with a backhand that froze UCLA's McCall Jones at No. 2 singles while play continued on two other courts.
Embree, named the tournament's Most Outstanding Player, posted the clincher by defeating Jones 6-4, 6-0 as Florida won its sixth national crown. The Gators' victory also stood in contrast to last year's championship finals, when Florida slipped by Stanford 4-3.
"I'm glad it wasn't as dramatic as last year," Embree said. "It feels amazing to clinch it, but without our 1 and 3 doubles team we wouldn't have gotten the doubles point, so I'm so proud of our team effort."
The Gators quickly collected the doubles point as Allie Will and Sofie Oyen defeated Robin Anderson and Skylar Morton 8-4 at No. 1, and Alex Cercone and Caroline Hitimana beat Jones and Carling Seguso 8-5.
"(Winning doubles) is a little bit of a double-edged sword," Thornqvist said. "You don't want to jump for joy in the locker room and then find yourself in a battle 30 minutes later. But this team is so physical that it's really difficult to win four points on us in singles, and I think that does give us a confidence boost and an edge when we start."
After requiring more than three hours to defeat her opponent on Monday to clinch the semifinal match against Duke, Cercone — who was named to the all-tournament team — was first off the court Tuesday, giving Florida a 2-0 advantage with a 6-2, 6-0 win over Chanelle Van Nguyen. Cercone, who had to take a 10-minute break on Monday due to the heat, said she wasn't surprised with her quick success against Van Nguyen.
"Today I played really good tennis," said Cercone, who is now 9-0 in singles matches in NCAA tourney play. "I was very efficient and I think my opponent was a little stressed out. I was glad I was able to get off (quickly) because I was a little bit tired."
Florida went up 3-0 when Oyen defeated Morton 6-3, 6-2 at No. 4, leaving matches by Will (at No. 1) and Mather (at No. 3) unfinished. Tuesday's match was Mather's last as a Gator and she proclaimed herself more than pleased to go out on top.
"It feels amazing," she said. "I can't ask for a better team. I'm so happy we were able to win this."
When asked about the prospects for a three-peat, Thornqvist said, "We're going to have a huge hole to fill in Joanna Mather. She's been our leader for three years and she's been our safety blanket, providing tremendous security for this team, so we'll have to rely on several people to provide that. The journey towards next year's NCAA championship will begin in the fall."