Tuesday, May 22, 2012
Florida beats UCLA for title
By David Ching
ATHENS, Ga. -- Lauren Embree had to rally from a 4-0 deficit in the third set to secure the clinching point in Florida's NCAA finals win against Stanford last year.
Embree needed no such drama in Tuesday's 4-0 win against UCLA, but she once again represented the clinching point as the Gators won their second straight women's tennis championship and sixth in the last 20 years.
"I'm glad it wasn't as dramatic as last year, but I just happened to be the last one that had a chance of clinching," said Embree, who was named the tournament's most outstanding player for the second time in her career. "The bottom of our lineup, I was looking at the scoreboard and they were doing awesome down there."
After winning the doubles point, second-seeded Florida (27-1) steadily pulled away from top-seeded UCLA (26-3) with a lineup that includes only one senior -- No. 3 singles player Joanna Mather. So naturally Gators coach Roland Thornqvist was forced to answer whether the Gators are capable of a three-peat.
He wasn't ready to look that far into the future, however, reflecting on the challenge in simply defending after going eight years between titles before last year.
"I'm really proud of this group. We discovered this year that without a doubt it's much more difficult to repeat than it is to do it the first time," Thornqvist said. "There are just some inherent challenges that you have to deal with in the beginning of the year and we had to go through some growing pains as defending national champions. But throughout the spring I think these guys just showed what kind of will and what kind of courage and determination they have."
Once singles play started, Florida quickly pushed its lead to 3-0 with wins from the bottom of its lineup. In matches that concluded within minutes of each other, Florida's Sofie Oyen beat Skylar Morton 6-3, 6-2 at No. 4 singles and Alex Cercone -- another Gators all-tournament honoree -- beat Chanelle Van Nguyen 6-2, 6-0 at No. 5.
UCLA's players won the first set on the remaining three courts, but all of those matches were still in progress when the match ended.
"We knew they were a very strong team and very deep, but we still felt like we could win this and just get four points," UCLA coach Stella Sampras Webster said. "They just played better than we did, I think, in certain spots."
After Oyen and Cercone's wins, the Gators needed only one more point for the victory and Embree provided it by wrapping up a 6-4, 6-0 win against McCall Jones at No. 2 singles.
"I thought that we would be able to really compete and give them a good contested match, but they just really took over," Sampras Webster said.
Florida's Caroline Hitimana led the swarm of Gators who rushed to center court to congratulate Embree, tackling the junior as the group gathered to celebrate their second straight title.
UCLA's Robin Anderson earned all-tournament honors at No. 1 singles. Her teammates Courtney Dolehide and Pamela Montez also made the all-tournament team at No. 2 doubles.
Other all-tournament honorees in doubles were Georgia's Kate Fuller and Nadja Gilchrist and USC's Danielle Lao and Alison Ramos. USC's Sabrina Santamaria and Duke's Rachel Kahan and Monica Turewicz also won all-tournament honors in singles.