Notebook: Embree dubbed the best
Published: Monday, April 8, 2013 at 6:33 p.m.
Last Modified: Monday, April 8, 2013 at 6:33 p.m.
The Florida women's tennis program has produced some great players over the years, but head coach Roland Thornqvist has no doubt about whom he considers the best.
“So you want to know why Lauren Embree is the best college player to ever play the game?” asked Thornqvist as he addressed the media at Monday's All-Sports Press Conference.
“It was Monday morning at 8:30, and after a weekend full of matches and practices, she runs to the courts, hits serves for 30 minutes, then I show up and we go at it for an hour and 15 minutes. By 10 o'clock, she's done two workouts already while the rest of tennis America is still sleeping.
“That's why we're good, and that's why she's good. She sets the tone, the bar is high, and I think everybody feeds off of it. We've just been blessed to have that for four years, frankly. It's just amazing.”
Embree, who provided the clinching point for the two-time defending national champions at both the 2011 and 2012 NCAA Championships, will try and lead second-ranked UF (17-2, 10-1) to road wins over Kentucky (12-10, 3-8) and Vanderbilt (13-9, 6-5) this weekend to close out the regular season.
Two victories would guarantee the Gators, who have won 10 straight matches, no worse than a share of their 26th SEC regular-season title in 33 years of league competition and would also make Embree and fellow senior Caroline Hitimana the first players in Thornqvist's tenure (2002-present) to win four consecutive SEC titles.
“I'm really proud of them and proud of what they've achieved,” he said. “But we're going to try and forget about all the headlines there and just play good tennis this weekend.”
Both No. 3 Georgia (17-2, 10-1) and No. 4 Texas A&M (18-2, 10-1), currently tied with UF atop the SEC overall standings, also will be on the road, with the Bulldogs traveling to No. 23 Auburn (16-6, 6-5) and No. 7 Alabama (17-3, 9-2) this weekend while the Aggies play matches at Mississippi State (7-12, 1-10) and Ole Miss (10-11, 4-7).
Spurred on by an O'Connell Center crowd of 7,137 that was a record for a Gainesville Regional, No. 1 UF swept the top three all-around spots and also won or shared the title on every event en route to posting a winning score of 198.40 that was the No. 2 mark in program history, just .025 short of the school-record 198.425 set on March 1.
“The atmosphere was just outstanding with over 7,000 fans in the audience,” head coach Rhonda Faehn said. “It's what helped to fuel our athletes. To come out and look and see people up into the third level was just incredible.”
The Gators' team mark earned them the No. 1 overall seed for the 2013 NCAA Championships in Los Angeles April 19-21, where UF will be paired with No. 4 Georgia, No. 5 LSU, No. 8 Minnesota, No. 9 Stanford and No. 12 Illinois in the first of two semifinal sessions on the opening day of competition at 3 p.m. (ET) in UCLA's Pauley Pavilion.
The remaining six teams – No. 2 Oklahoma, No. 3 and two-time defending champ Alabama, No. 6 and host UCLA, No. 7 Michigan, No. 10 Utah and No. 11 Arkansas – will compete in a second session that night at 9 p.m., with the top three teams from each semifinal advancing to the Super Six competition the next day at 4 p.m. to battle for the NCAA title.
Third-ranked UF bounced back from its first loss of the season in style, knocking off No. 17 Johns Hopkins 19-9 Saturday at home.
“We had a really nice win on Saturday,” said head coach Amanda O'Leary. “You never know how your team is going to react coming off a loss. I thought we did a really, really nice job of rebounding.”
UF (14-1, 2-1) will travel to Vanderbilt (2-12, 0-4) for a 2 p.m. road match Sunday before returning home to face defending national champ and current American Lacrosse Conference leader Northwestern (11-1, 4-0) on April 20 at noon to close out the regular season.
TRACK & FIELD
UF hosted the 69th Annual Pepsi Florida Relays this past weekend and came away with a number of impressive performances highlighted by winning six event titles and the women's 4X400 relay breaking the school record and posting the top time in the NCAA this year (3:27.43).
“Our team was phenomenal this weekend,” head coach Mike Holloway said. “I thought we took a big step forward.
“We've had two big meets in a row, so we need to rest a little bit. But at the end of the day, we want to come back and be very competitive at the Tom Jones meet (April 20) and get ready for the postseason.”