The Florida women earned the NCAA national championship with its dramatic 4-3 victory over the host Cardinal on Tuesday night at the Taube Family Tennis Center. The Gators survived a grueling four-hour match to grind out the victory, taking three singles victories in three sets, including the clincher in a tiebreaker.
Florida (31-1) will carry the nation's longest home winning streak, at 95, into next season. Stanford (28-1) will start another one.
Cardinal women's tennis coach Lele Forood said the team never made too much of the streak because it involved generations of players long since graduated or even retired from the professional game.
"We knew it wasn't going to go on for infinity, so we will take a loss and move on," she said. "The streak doesn't mean a lot to us. It is interesting, but it is not a motivating thing. It is kind of fun, but it is trivia. We are much more on the year to year with what we do because players, situations and teams are different. It just happens that we went an incredibly long period of time without losing a match."
Stanford and Florida seem to be handing the baton off to each other. The Cardinal had a 52-match home streak end in that February of 1999 loss to California. Stanford ended the Gators' 60-match home winning streak in the national championship match in 1999. It's Florida's turn to carry the banner.
Stanford has won 236 of its past 238 matches played at home, a span that dates to the 1995 season.
The Cardinal loses three seniors in Hilary Barte, Carolyn McVeigh and Jennifer Yen. Barte, who likely will become a four-time All-American this year, took an overall singles record of 136-28 and a doubles mark of 117-33 into the NCAA individual tournament that began Wednesday.
Barte owns a career 90-13 (87-10 as the No. 1 player) in dual matches, tying her with Lauren Kalvaria for seventh on the all-time list. She is 71-22 (70-22 as No. 1) in dual match doubles victories.
"It has been the most special experience I have ever had, especially in tennis," Barte said. "I think this team especially, we had a lot of mountains and we climbed them. The memories I'll take away, I will have for the rest of my life."
Mallory Burdette, who fought from behind to give herself, and the team, a chance to win, walked off after her final shot went long Tuesday night, shoulders slumped and head down.
Stanford didn't necessarily lose the title on Court 2, or anywhere else. Florida just won it, taking advantage of an ankle injury to Cardinal freshman Kristie Ahn to win at No. 5 and No. 6 singles and setting the stage for an epic battle at No. 2 singles.
"It's hard to lose an impact player like her but I felt comfortable with the people we put on the court," Forood said. "I feel like we can get four points on anybody."
The Gators also won the doubles point, taking it to Stanford right away and winning convincingly.
Embree, who played No. 1 singles last year, was ahead 5-1 in the first set before Burdette won seven straight games to snatch the set away. Embree, who won her 24th consecutive match, was in control of the second set.
Burdette went up 4-0 in the third set and Embree rallied to win five straight games and was at double match point before Burdette rallied to take the game and then send it to the tie-breaker.
Burdette faced a 6-4 deficit before winning the next two points. Then she missed a sure winner and sent the next one long, ending the marathon.
Barte gave Stanford its first point at No.1 singles, beating Allie Will, 6-2, 6-4. Freshman Nicole Gibbs gave the Cardinal the lead, 2-1, with a 6-4, 7-5 win over Sofie Oyen at No. 3 singles.
"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 a huge idol," Burdette said of Barte. "I've always wanted to be like her, 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 say everything. It is the 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 it's not over yet; we have next week. We still have doubles and we are going to do very well."
Stacey Tan recovered from a first set loss to beat Joanna Mather, 3-6, 6-2, 6-4, at No. 4 singles and give Stanford a 3-1 edge but Alex Cercone returned the favor at No. 5 singles, beating Veronica Li, 4-6, 6-1, 6-4 as Florida closed to within 3-2.
Olivi Janowicz's 6-7 (6-8), 6-3, 6-1 win over McVeigh at No. 6 singles to tie it.
"It was an incredible match," Forood said. "It was the most electric atmosphere I have experienced at a college tennis match. It was an amazing day; we just came up a little short."
Barte, Burdette, Gibbs and McVeigh all received all-tournament honors. Embree was named the Most Outstanding Player.