Competing in the NCAA Individual Tournament Saturday, two Florida tennis teams found themselves one step away from playing for a national title as the men’s doubles team and women’s singles player Lauren Embree advanced to the NCAA semifinals.
Florida men’s tennis duo of Alexandre Lacroix and Sekou Bangoura Jr. won in straight sets against Louisville’s Austen Childs and Viktor Maksimcuk, topping their opponent 6-3, 6-2.
“They played their best match of the year today, so that’s very exciting in the quarters of the NCAA,” Florida head coach Andy Jackson said. “[Assistant coach] Jeremy Bayon has worked extremely hard with them, and I’m proud of all three of those guys because they’ve got a real chance in this tournament.”
The Gators fell behind early in the first set, but rallied to get back on serve before breaking for a 5-3 lead, followed by a hold to take the first, 6-3.
The second set opened with three straight breaks that put Florida in the drivers’ seat. Up a break with a 2-1 advantage, UF broke the Cardinals’ serve again to go up 5-2 and served out the match.
Bangoura and Lacroix will face either Stanford’s Bradley Klahn and Ryan Thacher or Florida State’s Vahid Mirzadeh and Connor Smith in Sunday’s semifinal. However, the Stanford-Florida State quarterfinal went into a rain delay at approximately 8:15 p.m. on Saturday with FSU leading 7-6, 1-2.
Meanwhile, sophomore Lauren Embree became one of two Florida women’s players to advance in the NCAA Singles Championships on Saturday.
Embree advanced to the semifinals with a 6-3, 7-6 (5) victory against California’s 23rd-ranked Mari Andersson.
Embree’s run marks the 13th time a Gator has reached the semifinals and the first since Jennifer Magley did it in 2005. Jessica Lehnhoff was the last Gator to play in the final when she did so in 2002.
The 17th-ranked Gator won her 28th consecutive singles match and remained undefeated this season.
“I got up 4-2, but then I backed up a little bit and played more defensively,” Embree said. “Then I missed that overhead to go 5-4 down, so I really wanted to get that point so I wouldn’t be down two set points. At five all, I played a good point and at 6-5, I tried to win it with a volley and that is what happened.
“She attacked when I give her short balls, but my defense was good today. She played well and I just tried to get as many balls back as I could.”
The second-set tiebreaker was on-serve through five points before Embree took a mini-break for a 4-2 lead. Andersson got it back later and went to the baseline with a pair of serves and a 5-4 lead, but Embree proved too tough and won three consecutive points to seal the straight-sets
“Lauren played pretty well today,” Florida head coach Roland Thornqvist said. “Mari Andersson was hitting the ball as hard as she possible could in the second set. We had to do a lot of defending but at the right moments, Lauren was able to step up and hit some big second-serve returns and come to the net and volley away a few when Mari gave her the opportunity. Her courage to move forward in the second set at times was the difference and that gave her the match.”
Embree will play Stanford’s Stacey Tan in the semifinals on Sunday afternoon. The other semifinal features top-seeded Jana Juricova of California versus Stanford’s 18th-ranked Nicole Gibbs. Both matches are scheduled to begin at 3 p.m. on Sunday.
“Lauren is really tough,” Thornqvist said. “She’s very mentally solid and she’s had a good attitude every match here. When you get to this stage, the margin here is so small you have to be mentally sharp with your skills as well as your mind and take advantage of every opportunity that presents itself. Lauren will have to do the same again on Sunday against Tan.”
The Gator’s second-seeded doubles team of Alex Cercone and Allie Will fell in the quarterfinals of the NCAA Doubles Championship 6-2, 7-5 to Clemson’s sixth-ranked pair of Josipa Bek and Keri Wong.
Cercone and Will capped their impressive first year together with a 14-1 record, with their 14-match run tied for the 10th-longest win streak in school history.
“Alex and Allie have superseded all of my expectations this year,” Thornqvist said. “We did not play particularly well today, however, and that is disappointing. They didn’t communicate as well as they should as in the quarterfinals of the NCAA Championships. I’m sure they’re disappointed and they should be. They did lose, however, to one of the best teams in the country. There’s no shame in losing to them, but I’m sure we’re a little disappointed that we didn’t play as well as we could today.”
NCAA Doubles Championship
Taube Tennis Center
Saturday, May 28, 2011
Doubles Quarterfinals Results
#17 Bangoura/Lacroix (UF) def. #18 Childs/Maksimcuk (Louisville) 6-3,
NCAA Women’s Tennis Singles & Doubles Championships
Taube Family Tennis Center * Stanford, Calif.
Saturday, May 28, 2011
Singles Quarterfinals Results
No. 17 Lauren Embree, FLORIDA d. No. 23 Mari Andersson, CALIFORNIA
Doubles, Quarterfinals Results
No. 6 Josipa Bek-Keri Wong, CLEMSON d. No. 2 Alex Cercone/Allie Will, UF, 6-2, 7-5