Florida nearly overcame a 3-0 deficit but couldn’t complete what would have been a stunning rally and its bid to win a third consecutive NCAA title came to end with a 4-3 loss to Stanford in the semifinals of the NCAA Championships played at the Khan Outdoor Tennis Complex at the Atkins Tennis Center on Monday evening.
The Gators had several chances to take control, but couldn’t capitalize and found themselves on the disappointing end of another 4-3 thriller on the national stage with the Cardinal.
The last two postseason meetings between the two programs prior to Monday both were thrilling 4-3 decisions in the final, with the Gators
capturing the 2011 national championship and the Cardinal the 2010 crown and both of those matches came down to a third set in the last match on court.
UF had its overall win streak halted at 19, as well as its 16-match run in the NCAA Championships. The Gator’s previous last postseason loss was a 4-3 decision to Stanford in the 2010 final.
“Our players were battling their hearts out,” UF head coach Roland Thornqvist said. “It looked so grim for us, down 3-0, but somehow we found a way and gave ourselves a chance to win. That’s one thing about this team, they just never give up. As good as Stanford it, they really took it to us for about two hours. Somehow after four hours, we still had a chance to win it. Hats off to Stanford, they played an amazing match, but I’m really proud of our team, our effort and their never-say-die attitude. A ball here or there and this match goes our way.”
The Cardinal (21-4) jumped out to the commanding lead after winning the doubles point and the taking the straight set decisions on singles courts one and two.
The Gators (26-3) earned their first point of the dual match when freshman Brianna Morgan (Beverly Hills, Calif.) collected a 6-1, 6-3 victory against Stacy Tan for her 13th consecutive win. The Gator rookie never trailed in the match, first jumping out to a 3-0 lead in the first set and after trading breaks to begin the second won two straight games and held serve the rest of the way for the victory in one hour and 36 minutes.
“She’s going to be a star, there’s no question about it,” Thornqvist
said of Morgan. “She’s come a long way. She was a hitter in the fall and she’s a player now. There are still a lot of little things that she can improve on, but when you see the game that she puts on the court now that bodes real well for us in the future.”
Senior Caroline Hitimana (Waterloo, Belgium) followed with a 1-6, 6-1, 6-0 victory against Natalie Dillon on court six and Florida trailed just 3-2 in the team scoring. After a 24-minute first set, Hitimana returned the court an entire different player as she posted three love games and let only three games reach duce in the final two sets.
“It hurts,” Hitimana shared. “This was the last match of my UF career. It came down to a deciding match at 3-all. We had some chances but couldn’t pull it out. We’ve always had some great battles with Stanford and good luck to them in the final.”
Junior Alexandra Cercone (Seminole, Fla.) seemed in command of her match against No. 14 Krista Hardebeck on court three, where Cercone won the first set in a tiebreak and was serving up 5-1 in the second set.
It appeared as though the deciding match would come down to court five, where junior Olivia Janowicz (Palm Bay, Fla.) had split sets with Ellen Tsay on court five.
As Janowicz and Tsay continued to hold serve in the third set, Hardebeck mounted a remarkable comeback by winning five consecutive games before Cercone halted the streak with a break to force a tiebreak. The Cardinal won the first three points of the tiebreak and Cercone had to play catchup the entire way, evening it at 4-all, but never taking the lead, as the match went to a third set.
Meanwhile on court five, Janowicz earned the only break in the third set as she held at love for the 5-4 lead and broke to win the match and evened the team score at 3-all.
“Olivia was amazing,” Thornqvist praised. “She’s improved a lot, tennis-wise and mentally. She’s so much more confident now and adds a whole different level of belief in herself. The last month of play you could really see it. Today, on this stage and do it against the caliber of a player like Tsay bodes well on her senior season.
Cercone and Hardebeck traded breaks to being the third set on court three and it was on serve until the seventh game, where Hardebeck broke and held at love for the 5-3 lead en route to the clinching 6-7 (5), 7-6 (5), 6-3 decision.
Seniors Lauren Embree (Marco Island, Fla.) and Hitimana end the team portion of their collegiate careers having helped Florida compile a 113-8 record during the four years, while winning two NCAA team titles (2011 and 2012), reaching four NCAA Final Fours with a runner-up showing in 2010, four Southeastern Conference regular season and tournament championships, in addition to posting a 55-0 home record.
Embree is set to compete in the NCAA Singles and Doubles Championships that begin Wed., May 22 in Urbana. The draws will be unveiled on Tuesday. Cercone and Sofie Oyen (Leopoldsburg, Belgium) also earned a berth into the 64-player NCAA Singles Championships, while Embree and Oyen pair in the 32-team doubles event.
Hitimana concludes her collegiate career with a 73-18 overall singles record that includes a 48-4 mark in dual matches, as well as a 67-29 overall doubles record and a 48-14 slate in dual matches; she was 5-1 in NCAA dual match singles contests and 12-3 in doubles.
Embree ends her remarkable individual dual match career with an 86-6 singles record, tied for the ninth-most wins by a Gator in dual match singles action; her singles winning percentage in dual matches was a 93.55 percent (86-6), the second-highest in program history (Bonnie Bleecker, 1995-98, 94.9% 93-5); doubles dual match record was 96-11.
In NCAA dual matches, Embree ends her career as the Gator’s all-time leader for singles wins (15-1), with her only loss in 16 matches coming Monday, doubles wins (19-3), combined wins (34-4) and highest combine winning percentage (89.5 percent) of those playing a minimum of 10 matches.
“We’ve had a great season,” Thornqvist reflected. “This group has been great to work with. They’ve had great attitudes and really enjoyed competing. It’s been challenging because we haven’t had the doubles issues in the past like we did this year but our players handled it with resiliency. We lost it more this year (10 times) than any other year that I’ve been here. We found a way to still be competitive against top teams throughout the year. I’m just really proud of them.”
Stanford meets No. 3 Texas A&M (26-3) for the national championship on Tuesday at 6 p.m. ET/5 p.m. CT. The Aggies defeated No. 7 UCLA, 4-3, in their semifinal match.
NCAA Women’s Tennis Championships
Khan Outdoor Tennis Complex at the Atkins Tennis Center
Monday, May 20, 2013
NCAA Semifinals Results
#12 Stanford d. #1 Florida, 4-3
#3 Texas A&M d. #7 UCLA, 4-3