STANFORD, Calif.- Lauren Embree's thrilling 5-7, 6-3, 7-6 (6) victory over Mallory Burdette at the No. 2 position lifted Florida to a 4-3 victory over Stanford in the 2011 NCAA championship match on Tuesday night at the Taube Family Tennis Stadium.
The Gators (31-1) captured their first national title since 2003 and avenged last year's 4-3 national championship loss to Stanford in Athens, Ga.
The Cardinal (28-1) was denied in its attempt to repeat as national champions, while two lengthy streaks were also snapped in the process.
Tuesday's title match showcased the country's top two teams. Both squads had taken turns occupying the top spot in the ITA national rankings, with Florida entering the postseason ranked first but seeded second in the draw while Stanford was ranked second yet owned the tourney's No. 1 overall seed. A quirky set-up considering the Cardinal defeated the Gators 4-2 back on Feb. 21 to claim the National Team Indoor Championships crown.
Regardless of ranking or seed, it was clear the nation's top two teams were on display Tuesday night. Playing in front of an electric atmosphere generated by 2,863 fans, Stanford and Florida battled it out in one of the most intense finals in NCAA tennis history.
Playing without 15th-ranked Kristie Ahn (ankle injury) holding down the No. 4 spot, Stanford was forced to adjust the bottom of its lineup and was without the services of a player who entered the match 36-4 overall and 18-1 in duals.
Dramatic momentum swings dominated the match, highlighted by Florida grabbing a critical 1-0 lead following the doubles point before Stanford built a 3-1 advantage and looked to be in the driver's seat.
In the end, it was Embree, one of two players to post a victory during last year's NCAA title match, who secured the victory for Florida. On the other side was Burdette, who last year turned a 5-4 third-set deficit into a 7-5 victory to clinch Stanford's 16th NCAA title.
Florida won the doubles point easily, cruising to 8-3 victories on courts two and three.
Dropping the doubles point for only the fifth time this year, Stanford was on the defensive from the start. But the Cardinal also lost the doubles point in last year's final, so the match was still far from being decided.
Hilary Barte's 6-2, 6-4 victory at the No. 1 spot knotted the match at 1-1. Barte picked up her 30th win of the year and has now surrendered six games or less to her opponent during a five-match winning streak.
Nicole Gibbs notched her team-leading 42nd win of the year, defeating Sofie Oyen 6-4, 7-5 over on court three for a 2-1 Stanford lead.
Stacey Tan outlasted Joanna Mather 3-6, 6-2, 6-4 at the No. 4 position, pushing Stanford ahead 3-1. Tan was the only Stanford player who failed to claim a first set, so the outcome was looking promising early on for the Cardinal.
But wins at the bottom of the lineup from Alex Cercone (4-6, 6-1, 6-4 over Veronica Li at No. 5) and Olivia Jaowicz (6-7 (6), 6-3, 6-1 over Carolyn McVeigh at No. 6) helped Florida tie the match again at 3-3.
That left Embree and Burdette slugging in out at the No. 2 spot. Burdette erased a 5-1 first-set deficit, claiming the opening stanza 7-5. Embree then bounced back to take the second set 6-3.
Burdette jumped out to a 4-0 lead in the final set, only to see Embree win five straight games. Burdette then battled her way back before the match went to a tiebreaker.
The tiebreaker featured ties at 2-2, 4-4 and 6-6 before Embree prevailed 8-6, stunning the raucous Stanford crowd.
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No. 1 Florida 4, No. 2 Stanford 3
Doubles (Order of Finish: 2, 3)
1) No. 3 Barte/Burdette (STAN) vs. No. 2 Cercone/Will (FLA) aban.
2) No. 45 Embree/Oyen (FLA) d. Gibbs/Li (STAN) 8-3
3) Hitimana/Mather (FLA) d. No. 74 McVeigh/Tan (STAN) 8-3
Singles (Order of Finish: 1, 3, 4, 5, 6, 2)
1) No. 3 Hilary Barte (STAN) d. No. 7 Allie Will (FLA) 6-2, 6-4
2) No. 17 Lauren Embree (FLA) d. No. 22 Mallory Burdette (STAN) 5-7, 6-3, 7-6 (6)
3) No. 18 Nicole Gibbs (STAN) d. No. 91 Sofie Oyen (FLA) 6-4, 7-5
4) No. 43 Stacey Tan (STAN) d. No. 42 Joanna Mather (FLA) 3-6, 6-2, 6-4
5) No. 54 Alex Cercone (FLA) d. Veronica Li (STAN) 4-6, 6-1, 6-4
6) Olivia Janowicz (FLA) d. Carolyn McVeigh (STAN) 6-7 (6), 6-3, 6-1
Stanford Head Coach Lele Forood On the match...
"Well, it was an incredible match. It was the most electric atmosphere I have experienced at a college tennis match. So it was an amazing day, but we just came up a little short today."
On the up and downs of the match...
"It was that kind of match. Through three sets to a third set tiebreak. That is just the way it goes sometimes."
On snapping the winning streak...
"It has been going on a long time. I think I sat here the other day and said we know it isn't going to go on for infinity, so we will take a loss and move on. The streak doesn't mean a lot to us. It is interesting, but it is not a motivating thing. It is kinda fun, but it is trivia. We are much more on the year to year with what we do. Because players, situations, teams, etc. are different. It just happens that we went an incredibly long period of time without losing a match."
On losing Kristie Ahn to injury...
"It is hard to lose an impact player like her. But we felt comfortable with the players we put out there today. She wasn't going to go out there on the court to just take space up. We felt good about that.
We were not a healthy ship out here today."
On Florida in the doubles point...
"They played very well. Their tactics were good, their execution was better. We don't have a chance in this tournament with the straight line. When we don't win the doubles point, we don't panic. We know we are very strong singles players and know we can put away four points on anyone."
Sophomore Mallory Burdette On the winning and losing side of the NCAA finals...
"Obviously it is not as fun being on this side. I had my game plan when I went out there today. I executed it pretty well for most of the match and it came down to two points. I knew what she was going to do, it just came down to two points. I am pretty proud with the way I played, just came up a little short.
On using last year's experience...
"I was thinking about it more in terms of that was the way I should be playing. Obviously I needed that tiebreaker."
On when she knew McVeigh's match of six was over...
"I think in the middle of the tiebreaker, I looked up there to see that McVeigh's match was done."
On teammate Hilary Barte...
"I think that ever since freshman year, when you have someone on your team that is so successful at what she does. In a lot of ways, she is like an idol. I've always wanted to carry myself like her, with a lot of class. I feel like I have just learned so much, that it is hard to even state it. It is just little things here and there, how she handles people, how she handles herself out on the court. It has been a really cool two years. And its not over yet, we have next week. We still have doubles and I think we are going to do really, really well."
Senior Hilary Barte On this team...
"It is a the most special experience I have ever had. I think this team especially, we had a lot of mountains and we climbed them. The memories with this team, I will have for the rest of my life."
Florida Head Coach Roland Thornqvist On the match...
"I don't know how it looked on TV or in the stands, but let me tell you what it looked like from my point of view, it took about 10 years off my life. We played phenomenal. We really set the tone. Today we really found out how Stanford has a 12 year winning streak. It is very difficult to win here. It took everything we have to push us to victory. Thankfully we have a superstar with the best wheels in the game. I think she is the toughest player I have ever coached. She is 6-0 in national championship finals. I will put that record up against anyone. So when it came down to Lauren, it was the one we wanted at the end and she came through for us."
On the winning feeling...
"The feeling on this side, is like a different world. It resonated throughout the summer. We wrote some letters to them. It was a deep hole that we had to get out. We know how Mallory [Burdette] is feeling right now. We have great sympathy for her."
On the atmosphere...
"This is what college tennis is all about. This is why we put the men and women together. Obviously a partisan crowd, but we talked about that. I know the way you ride when you have a crowd. I thought the Stanford players played an outstanding match."
On winning the title...
"It feels great, really. I told them when we first started the NCAA Championships, I was going to be proud of them. I have enjoyed being with them for eight months. I really feel like this team gets along really well. They are on the same page and we still enjoy being around each other. I am so happy for these guys. They really deserved it."
On breaking Stanford's 12 year win streak...
It is really difficult to win here. Today just proves how difficult it is. The Stanford players just play at a very different level. They played their best tennis, so to beat them here, you get their best game and 2,000 fans. We were very fortunate to get those last two points.
Sophomore Lauren Embree On her singles match...
"It was so up and down. I got out to a fast start, but Mallory [Burdette] kept getting better and better. I wanted to get out and keep battling for my team. I had different thoughts racing through my mind. Down 4-0, obviously not too happy, but i knew I couldn't give up. I didn't want to lose of course."
On if she knew the score on court six...
I knew that Olivia [Janowicz] was winning, but I wanted to focus on my game.
On the strategy to her singles match...
"Mallory hits the ball so hard and I knew I couldn't hit with her. So I wanted to grind it out. I wasn't going to try to go stroke for stroke with her, that wasn't going to work."
Freshman Alexandra Cercone On teammate Lauren Embree...
"Lauren is one of those players you depend on. Sometimes you don't want to put pressure on one player. I knew that Lauren could pull it out. I had incredible faith in her and I am so glad she did what she did today and I am glad we are on the same team."