The No. 1 Florida Gators Women’s Tennis team lost a heartbreaking matchup to No. 12 Stanford 4-3 on Monday night in Urbana, Illinois. The two-time defending national champion Gators lost their chance to three-peat with their first postseason defeat since losing to Stanford in the NCAA Finals in 2010.
The story that isn’t told by looking at the final 4-3 decision is the fight of this team. The Gators began the semifinals down 3-0 against the Cardinals, losing the doubles point and two singles matches in two straight sets. ITA National Senior Player of the Year Lauren Embree did not notch a victory in the semifinals in doubles or singles, a performance that does not reflect the senior’s successful career – she clinched both national championships for Florida in back-to-back years.
Despite the unfavorable deficit, Florida rallied back against the familiar foe, knowing that they lost the doubles point to Stanford in February and still managed to beat the Cardinal 4-2.
Freshman Brianna Morgan stepped up to get the Gators their first point in the semifinal match by sweeping Stacy Tan, never trailing the Cardinal once. Senior Caroline Hitimana battled back from losing the first set 1-6 to win the next two 6-1 and 6-0, securing Florida’s second point.
It came down to the last two matches, both of which were tied at 3 games in the third set at the same time. The first of the two to finish was that of junior Olivia Janowicz, who broke Ellen Tsay and clinched the Gators’ tying point with a 6-4 victory in the third set.
With Florida and Stanford tied at three points each, all eyes fell upon junior Alexandra Cercone, who seemed in control of her match early on. However, she let Stanford freshman Krista Hardebeck come back from down 1-5 to win the second set 7-6. Cercone looked exhausted as she fought for every game, but showed signs of life when she broke Hardebeck. However, after losing the break point in the seventh game of the third set, Cercone lost control and eventually lost the finals-clinching point 6-3 to end the Gators’ postseason run.
Over the past four years, the Florida Gators Women’s Tennis team has an undefeated record at home (55-0) and has brought Gainesville four SEC Championships, sweeping both the regular season and tournament each year. This team has made four straight NCAA Final Four appearances, with an NCAA Finals appearance in 2010 and winning the hardware in 2011 and 2012. This team and its SEC Coach of the year Roland Thornqvist certainly have a lot to be proud of, and they aren’t done yet:
Three-time SEC Player of the Year Lauren Embree (38-0 against SEC opponents) will continue her post season as the No. 1 seed in the NCAA Singles Championships. Juniors Sophia Oyen and Alexandra Cercone join Embree in the round of 64 starting today, with the finals scheduled for Monday, May 27th. Embree and Oyen will play a different Stanford tandem than they did Monday, facing Stacy Tan and Ellen Tsay in the 32-team doubles draw starting tomorrow.