SEC Digital Network Video: Tennis Tournament Special
OXFORD, Miss. – Top-seeded Florida was pushed to the limit but showed its toughness and defeated third-seeded and seventh-ranked Georgia 4-1 to win the Southeastern Conference Tournament on Sunday held at Palmer/Salloum Tennis Center.
The SEC Tournament title, which is the Gator’s third straight, marks Florida’s 18th league postseason crown in the 26-year history of the event.
With the SEC Tournament Championship, Florida (21-1) earns the SEC’s automatic berth into the NCAA Championships. The 64-team field will be announced on Tue., May 1 at 5:30 p.m. ET on www.NCAA. com, with the names of the NCAA Singles & Doubles participants unveiled on May by 6 p.m.
Five of the six singles matches on Sunday went to a third set, as the Gators captured the thrilling victory after taking the doubles point and earning singles wins by Joanna Mather, who was named SEC Tournament MVP, Lauren Embree, who earned a spot on the All-Tournament Team, and Caroline Hitimana, who provided the clinching championship win.
“It feels great, and in particular because of the match we just played,” UF head coach Roland Thornqvist said. “That was the SEC’s finest right there, the two best teams in the league without a doubt. It was high-level tennis from start to finish. We had to execute again at the end at No. 1 doubles and we poached at the right time. Then in singles there were five three-setters. I think once again our fitness proved to perhaps make a little bit of a difference. I think we got to them at 1 and 2, and certainly at 6 as well. I’m just very pleased.”
After Florida captured the doubles point, Georgia came out focused in singles, winning the first set on four of the six courts.
One of the courts where the Gators did take the opening frame was at the No. 3 position, where Joanna Mather earned a quick 6-4, 6-4 victory against Nadja Gilchrist and gave Florida a 2-0 lead and earned her 100th career singles win as she became just the seventh Gator to win 100 singles and doubles matches in a career, as she collected her 106th win on the doubles court on Sunday against the Bulldogs.
“It feels awesome,” Mather said of winning a third consecutive SEC Tournament title. “It’s so nice to do this my senior year, to come out and win it. It was so close. It looked like it could go either way. Georgia played a really great match, and we’re so excited we came out with the win.”
Mather, who on Sunday posted her 14th consecutive singles win, joins Nicole Arendt, Dawn Buth, Stephanie Nickitas, Jessica Lehnhoff, Nina Suvak and Zerene Reyes as the only Gators to win 100 matches in both disciplines.
“She’s been our MVP for three years, frankly,” Thornqvist said of Mather. “ I’m just very pleased to see that she could get it here at this tournament. It sort of rubber stamps her career I think. But she’s been our MVP for three years.”
Georgia netted its first point of the dual match with Lilly Kimbell’s 6-3, 2-6, 6-3 win on court five against Alexandra Cercone, who won a break-plagued second-set to force a third, where she jumped out to a 2-0 lead, but was unable to finish.
Lauren Embree then provided a huge boost to Florida’s momentum as she rallied to knock off seventh-ranked Chelsey Gullickson, 3-6, 6-4, 7-5, and gave the Gators a 3-1 lead. The win was the 14th straight for Embree, who tallied her 25th singles victory this season, as well as the 85th of her career.
Embree, ranked tenth in the country, and Gullickson traded breaks early in the first set before the Bulldog senior got the break in the eighth game and served out for the first set. Embree held to begin the second and that game was followed by four straight breaks, before the next four games remained on-serve, as Embree broke Gullickson at love to force a deciding third, which Gullickson jumped out and took a 2-0 lead. Embree got the break back in the fourth game, but lost her serve against the seventh game. The Gators junior broke right back, but so did Gullickson, who was serving for the match, up 5-4. Embree was again able to break Gullickson at love and held for 6-5, before breaking one last time at love to win the match.
Caroline Hitimana provided the clinching championship victory with her 7-5, 4-6, 6-4 win against Alina Jerjomina.
The Gators won another tightly contested doubles point for the second consecutive day, as Georgia took the first individual win of the day with an 8-1 decision on court three and put the pressure on Florida to win the other two matches.
The Gators responded as the top-ranked pair of Sofie Oyen and Allie Will rallied from down a break and 5-3 to break Kate Fuller in the 10th game and then Nadja Gilchrist in the 12th game for a 7-5 lead before Will served out for the 8-5 victory.
The doubles point came down to court two, where Lauren Embree and Joanna Mather came through with an 8-5 win against Chelsey Gullickson and Alina Jerjomina and Florida took the 1-0 lead. Embree and Mather jumped out to leads of 6-1 and 7-2 lead before the Bulldog pair battled back and won three straight games, before Mather served out and the Gator tandem collected its 20th consecutive victory, a run tied for the fifth longest in program history.
SEC Women's Tennis All-Tournament Team
Taylor Lindsey, Alabama
Lauren Embree, Florida
Joanna Mather, Florida
Maho Kowase, Georgia
Lilly Kimbell, Georgia
Abby Guthrie, Ole Miss
MVP: Joanna Mather, Florida