Florida clinches share of SEC title
Gators down LSU, can clinch outright title on Saturday
GAINSVILLE, Fla. -- Joanna Mather enjoyed a near-perfect senior day as she led No. 2-ranked Florida to a 7-0 victory against LSU on Sunday afternoon at Linder Stadium at Ring Tennis Complex, where the Gators played their final regular-season home match and posted their 105th consecutive home win.
Florida (17-1, 10-0 Southeastern Conference) clinched no worse than a share of the SEC regular-season championship and can claim the title outright with a victory at South Carolina on Saturday in the team’s regular-season finale.
The Gators, who has won more SEC titles than any other women’s team in any sport at any school, captured the program’s 26th overall SEC title in the 33 years the league has sponsored the sport.
“It was a great, great day,” UF head coach Roland Thornqvist said. “We played well, a great crowd showed up and the temperature was in the 70s. We won easily on all three doubles courts which I was very happy to see.”
Mather, the team’s lone senior, rode the emotion of a heartfelt and fun pre-match presentation onto the doubles court, where she and junior Lauren Embree posted a 35-minute, 8-2 victory against Olivia Howlett and Yvette Vlaar on court three.
After both teams held to begin the match, the Gators strung together nine consecutive points en route to a 4-1 lead and never looked back, as the tandem broke Howlett at love in the final game when Embree whipped a backhand service return down the middle of the court. The win marked the Gator pair’s 15th consecutive win, tying its career-best streak set last season. The 15-match win streak, which is tied as the eighth longest in program history, improved Embree and Mather’s overall record as a tandem to 45-7, including a 41-1 mark in dual match action.
Individually, Mather became the 13th different Gator to win 100 career doubles matches and the first since the 2007-08 season when seniors Whitney Benik and Lolita Frangulyan both netted the 100th of their respective careers.
“What a great young woman Joanna is,” Thornqvist said. “She exemplifies everything this program stands for: hard work, great attitude and a never-say-die competitive edge. She’s first class and is going to do well in whatever she chooses to do from here on out.”
The doubles match on court one was the next to post a final result and Florida’s team of Sofie Oyen and Allie Will captured the 8-1 victory against Keri Frankenberger and Whitney Wolf to secure the doubles point for the Gators. The victory was Oyen and Will’s 14th consecutive, as the nation’s No. 1-ranked doubles pair improved to 17-1 this season.
The Gators held serve throughout their match, including the final game where Will found herself down 0-40, before powering up her serve for five consecutive points and closing out the victory on her second match-point opportunity.
Florida’s team of Alexandra Cercone and Caroline Hitmana polished off the doubles sweep with its 8-3 victory against Kaitlin Burns and Ariel Morton. The win was marked the 100th career combined singles and doubles victory for Hitimana, who fittingly served out the final game as she became the 44th member of the Gator’s 100-win club after collecting her 50th career doubles victory.
Florida continued its momentum onto the singles courts and won each of the first five singles matches within a nine-minute span.
Mather provided the first singles decision of the dual match as she earned a 6-3, 6-1 victory against Olivia Howlett on court two, where the Gator senior needed 67 minutes to record her 11th consecutive singles win, as well as the 97th of her career and her team-leading 26th this season. Florida has compiled a 52-0 home record during Mather’s four-year career.
“It was fitting that Joanna was the first one to finish,” Thornqvist said. “This is the best tennis she’s played since she’s been here. This is the bets she’s moved. Her forehand hits both corners now and that’s something she worked hard on all spring. She’s a more explosive player. Her serve is better. Overall, she’s gotten better in every area.”
Oyen followed two minutes later with a 6-2, 6-1 win against Kaitlin Burns and gave Florida a 3-0 lead in the team scoring.
Embree provided the clinching dual match victory with a 6-2, 6-0 decision against Whitney Wolf on court one, where the Gator junior won the final eight games, including the last one a break at love, to net her 11th consecutive win and help Florida improve to 178-1 all-time at home against SEC opponents.
Hitimana posted a 6-1, 6-1 victory one minute after Embree clocked in, downing Yvette Vlaar for her team-leading 15th consecutive win as well as a her 22nd straight in dual matches.
Cercone then defeated Keri Frankenberger, 6-3, 6-2, to close a rapid nine-minute span, as the Gators emerged with a 6-0 lead in the team scoring.
Sophomore Olivia Janowicz preserved the shutout when she capped Florida final regular-season home match with a 7-5, 6-3 victory against Ariel Morton four minutes shy of the two-hour mark.