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Thursday May 24, 2012 Lone senior/class act Joanna Mather goes out in style

Updated: 5:05pm, May 24

Jo MatherGAINESVILLE, Fla. -- All of 40 minutes had elapsed since his Florida women’s tennis team had completed an ambitious/grueling quest to capture a second straight NCAA championship -- the first back-to-back titles in the illustrious program’s history -- when Roland Thornqvst got hit with this question in the post-tournament news conference Tuesday in Athens, Ga.

What will it take to come back next year and win another one?

“Oh, good heavens,” a bug-eyed Thornqvst shot back.

Clearly, the UF coach was ready to look that far ahead -- nor even cared to -- but there was one thing about next season's squad he was certain enough to comment about.

A pending void, to be specific.

“Put it this way,” Thornqvst said. “We’re going to have a huge hole to fill in Joanna Mather. She’s been our leader for three years and our safety blanket, and has provided tremendous security for this team.”

Mather, the lone senior on the Florida squad, was the stabilizing force of a team that combined to go 57-2 the last two seasons, both of which culminated with Mather, the team captain, being handed the NCAA trophy to hoist on the championship court while surrounded by her teammates.

“I wouldn’t trade any of these four years for anything,” Mather said.

Those years include a freshman season when the confluence of sub-par play, injuries and a lack of depth led to a 16-10 record that marked the worst in the program’s history. That Mather was the foundation to an instantaneous rebuilding process -- the Gators went 29-3 her sophomore year, losing to Stanford in the NCAA final -- made these championship runs all the more satisfying.

On Thursday, Mather played her final NCAA singles match, falling 3-6, 6-4, 6-3 to Stanford’s Nicole Gibbs, the Pac-12 champion, in the tournament singles draw.

"I'm not done with my playing," said Mather, who graduated with a business administration degree earlier this month. "I'm not quite ready to get a real job yet."

Jo mug Mather, who remains in the tournament doubles contention with partner Lauren Embree, finished her UF singles career with a record of 105-32, including a 21-2 mark as a senior while playing mostly at No. 3.

These final days of her stellar UF days were played 50 miles from her hometown of Duluth, Ga.

Who was in the house?

“My mom, my dad, her dad, his wife, my mom’s mom, her husband, mom's brother, his children, and my dad’s sister -- and her boyfriend,” Mather said Tuesday through a huge smile. “I hope I’m not missing anyone.”

Maybe, maybe not.

But there’s no question the Gators soon will be missing her.

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