“I don’t know how we won that match.”
The words spoken by Florida head coach Roland Thornqvist about his team’s 4-3 victory against Duke on Monday were not in any way insincere or hyperbolic. It lifted Florida into today’s 1 p.m. NCAA National Championship match against UCLA.
Florida was on the ropes. After taking a commanding 3-0 lead, the match-clinching fourth point was eluding the Gators.
“The first hour in singles, they were beating us to death,” Thornqvist said. “I thought it got to us. I was really concerned that we were going to wear down.”
Lauren Embree had won. Joanna Mather, who recovered from an ugly first set, followed suit.
But, the Gators were struggling in other places.
Allie Will never got things going on Court 1. The usually dependable No.1 was swept in straight sets.
Olivia Janowicz and Sofie Oyen each forced a third set for the Gators, but their comeback efforts came up short.
The last hope for the Gators was sophomore Alexandra Cercone.
However, she was in a hole herself.
Having split the first two sets, Cercone dropped the first two games of the third set. Florida’s chances of winning back-to-back titles seemed bleak.
Then, Cercone found the form that has made her so great for the Gators in her career.
“Today, she got outplayed and found a way to win the second,” Thornqvist said of Cercone. “I didn’t see the middle part of the third set, but she was just a surgeon at the end. She put the ball where she wanted it to be at the end.”
For Thornqvist and others who missed the any of the third set, Cercone was masterful. She maintained her composure and used an array of forehand winners to keep Duke’s Mary Clayton from taking complete control of the match.
She saved the Gators, earning the decisive point on a day when some of her teammates could not.
“I was really proud of our players,” Thornqvist said. “We were really down and out, but found a way to get back in the match.”
With the win, the Gators now face top-seeded UCLA today for the national title.
The Gators lead the all-time series 13-10, including a 7-5 advantage in NCAA meetings. The opportunity to earn a place in history against the nation’s best has Florida excited coming into the day.
“We’re really excited about tomorrow [Tuesday] and to play UCLA because we haven’t played them,” Lauren Embree said. “We know they’re a really tough team and they’ll give everything they have. I’m just really excited.”
Gators in Singles and Doubles Draw
As Florida looks to win a team national championship Tuesday, four members of the team will be looking for individual success starting Wednesday.
Lauren Embree, Joanna Mather, Sofie Oyen and Allie Will each earned a spot in the 64-player NCAA Singles Championships.
In addition, the pairings of Oyen and Will, as well as Embree and Mather, will be participating in the 32-team doubles draw beginning Thursday.
Will earned the No.1 overall seed in singles play, while her pairing with Oyen earned the two the No.1 seed in doubles play.
With the double-distinction as No.1, Will finds herself in rare company. She is the first Gator to be seeded No. 1 in singles and doubles at the NCAA individual championships.
It is just the third time in Florida program history that a player has been the No. 1 overall seed in the singles event. Lisa Raymond earned the top spot in the 1992 and 1993 tournaments. She won the singles title both years.
Here is the entire first round draw for the Gators:
Allie Will, UF vs. Shannon Mathews, Notre Dame
Lauren Embree, UF vs. Anastasia Erofeeva, Tulsa
Joanna Mather, UF vs. Hanna Mar, Duke
Sofie Oyen, UF vs. Ecaterina Vasenina, South Florida
Sofie Oyen/Allie Will, UF vs. Ema Burgic/Nina Secerbegovic, Baylor
Lauren Embree/Joanna Mather, UF vs. Linda Abu Mushrefova/Nida Hamilton, Northwestern