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Monday January 7, 2013 Sofie Oyen in rarified Gators tennis air

Updated: 4:51pm, January 7

SofieGAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Sofie Oyen has played for the No. 1 women’s tennis team the last two seasons, but she’ll start 2013 atop an altogether different poll.

It should come as no surprise the two-time defending national champion Florida Gators will open the NCAA outdoor season as the nation’s top-ranked team, but the individual spotlight will shine on Oyen, the junior from Leopoldsburg, Belgium, who will debut as the nation’s No. 1-ranked singles player.

Oyen played her freshman and sophomore seasons at No. 4 singles for the Roland Thornqvist machine, posting a 55-16 record, but a breakout fall campaign rocketed her up the computer rankings. She’s the 10th UF player to be ranked No. 1 since 1988 and the sixth under Thornqvist, now in his 12th season.

“I think she’s always known she was really, really talented, but there’s still a difference in thinking you’re talented and being validated as so,” Thornqvist said. “She bridged that gap last semester, frankly. Sofie had a tremendous fall. Not only did she play at a high level, but played at that level consistently and it allowed her to beat some really good players.”

Oyen went 13-3 in the fall and because she faced -- and defeated -- some of those really good players the computers recognized her accomplishments and rewarded her in the rankings.

Worth noting: Lauren Embree, the UF stalwart who literally willed the Gators through the past NCAA tournament matches with amazing gut-check performances, has never been ranked No. 1, mostly because she goes into tournaments ranked so high and faces a slew of bottom-seeded opponents. Embree, 97-14 for her career, will play No. 1 singles for the Gators this season.

Oyen is expected to alternate with freshman Danielle Collins at the Nos. 2 and 3 singles spots, having battled through some tough draws in the fall. Her coach thinks those experiences will carry over and manifest themselves with confidence in the outdoor season.

“Just watching her the way she’s looked in practice today, you can tell she has an aura about her that perhaps wasn’t there,” Thornqvist said Monday. “That’s big for a tennis player.”

PLAYER                 TIMES RANKED 1      FIRST TIME
Halle Cioffe                        3                       Feb. 16, 1988
Nicole Arendt                     3                       March 12, 1991
Lisa Raymond                    9                       March 10, 1992
Jill Craybas                        1                       1995-96 Final Rankings
Jessica Lehnhoff                3                       April 17, 2002
Alexis Gordon                    2                       April 20, 2004
Jennifer Magley                 1                       Fall 2005
Diana Srebrovic                 1                       Jan. 10, 2006
Allie Will                             4                       Feb. 6, 2012
Sofie Oyen                        1                       Jan. 3, 2013

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