Lauren Embree was again the go-to-person in the Florida Gators win against Duke on Wednesday.
The non-conference match had two of the best teams in the country going head-to-head.
The home team, No. 2 Florida, was able to down No. 5 Duke, 5-0, in a weather-shortened match. The win marked the team’s 102nd straight home victory, the longest win streak in NCAA Division I women’s sports. It also marked its 30th straight victory this season, with their only loss to Stanford, the team the Lady Gators beat in the national championship final last season.
Against Duke, Embree won her singles match over Hanna Mar, 6-0, 6-2. Embree won the first 10 games in dominating the match.
In doubles she teamed with Joanna Mather to clinch the doubles point as they downed Mar and Annie Mulholland, 8-5, in an eight-game pro set.
As she did in Florida’s 4-3 win over No. 4 Georgia on March 4, Embree stepped up, but it was no a surprise to coach Roland Thornqvist.
In that match he said, “We’ve seen that before. She manages herself exceptionally well when it comes to pressure time. That’s one of her strengths, clearly. She’s tough, she puts the ball where it needs to be, she doesn’t beat herself.
“That experience she got last year, being the last match at the NCAA championship, really helped her. She has the confidence to know that she can get it done.”
In the NCAA Championship she clinched the NCAA team title with a third-set tie-breaker victory in the final match. She rallied from being down 4-0 in the third set, beating Stanford’s Mallory Burdette, 5-7, 6-3, 7-6 (6), giving Florida a 4-3 victory.
Coach Thornqvist switches Embree and Allie Will at No. 1 and 2, depending on the competition.
“It’s whatever coach wants,” Embree said. “It is more about the team. Everyone always fights to win. When we do it is a good feeling, but not only for myself, but the team who I care about.”
Over the three seasons she and doubles partner Mather have been a winning combination.
“We have really good chemistry and are really good friends,” Embree said.
She credits the team’s success because of its work ethic.
“We work really hard in practice,” Embree said. “They are pretty physical, but they get us in the right mind set to try our best and really fight hard. We end up winning because we try so hard.”
When she looks back to her playing career, including winning a state championship while playing at Lely High School, it was something that was meant to be.
“Tennis has always been part of my life, in school and in college,” she said.
Florida returns to action in the Southeastern Conference on March 23 when they travel to Mississippi State.
Looking ahead to the SEC Tournament in April, Embree said Georgia and Tennessee are good teams. Then it is on to the NCAA College Championship in May.
The only way Florida will play No. 1 UCLA will be in the championship finals.
Embree thinks the Lady Gators will be in the final match.
“If the team stays healthy and we keep up our hard work in practice we can play for the title,” she said.
Who knows, by then Florida may be No. 1.