When the Gators won four national championships in football and basketball from 2006-2008, the celebrations started and lasted for weeks. Gators fans all over sported gear and earned bragging rights of having allegiance to the best program in the nation for an excessive amount of time.
But when the Florida women’s tennis team returned to Gainesville after its NCAA team championship match at Stanford, it arrived to crickets.
Junior Lauren Embree managed to turn around a 4-0 deficit in the third set for a 5-7, 6-3, 7-6 (8-6) victory giving the Gators a 4-3 win and earning them the fifth national championship in their program’s history.
Although this defining moment occurred in May, the team will receive recognition in the Swamp during the first quarter of the Tennessee game on Sept. 17, where they will be able to relive the rocky road of excitement all over again.
“It was a tough road to get to the finals,” Embree said. “We had lost five first-set matches in a round of 16, lost five first-set matches against Miami, and also to Stanford. It wasn’t looking good for a good hour.”
It was a familiar feeling for the junior. Just a year ago, she was present when Stanford defeated the Gators 7-5 in the third set.
“Just getting down 4-0, I was thinking, just not again,” she said. “I can’t believe we are going to lose.”
Although Embree was feeling frustrated, she knew what she had to do.
“I just really had to stay mentally tough because none of us could really hit a ball at that moment,” she said. “We were just so nervous and so tight. I really just wanted to keep the ball in the court and just hope that my opponent would just start missing, and that’s what she did.”
The surreal moment became a reality when Embree pulled off the win and the team ran out to congratulate her.
“I couldn’t have been as mentally tough and stayed focused throughout the whole match if it wasn’t for the girls standing next to me and my coaches cheering me on,” Embree said.
In addition to a national championship, the Gators broke Stanford’s 47-match winning streak.
Embree said beating Stanford in their home court and also breaking its NCAA-record 184 consecutive home-match win streak with 2,000 of their fans rooting against the Gators was really exciting and “just kinda a cool stat we broke.”
“I don’t think it could have happened to a more deserving team,” she said.
With another championship under the team’s belt, the Gators didn’t take the summer off to relax.
Embree and teammate Allie Will traveled to play in professional tournaments in order to get matches and a head start on the season.
She said head coach Roland Thornqvist believes in being the fittest team, and this year is no different. He already has the team running sprints and practicing.
“I feel like that really helped us last year because even losing five first sets in a round of 16 we were just that day the fitter team,” Embree said.
Although practices have been brutal so far, Embree said the team is ready to start a new season in October.
Until then, Embree said she’s ready to share her emotions with Gators fans in the Swamp.
“To be out on the field is just going to be an awesome moment.”