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Three-time SEC Player of the Year Lauren Embree will earn a new title Saturday -- college graduate.

Thursday May 1, 2014Embree Completes Unfinished Business, Eyes Next Chapter

Three-time SEC Player of the Year Lauren Embree will earn a new title Saturday -- college graduate.

Scott Carter
By SCOTT CARTER
GatorZone.com Senior Writer

GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Lauren Embree has already dipped her feet into the real world, so life after Saturday is sort of like a reboot.

Embree finished her UF career last spring with back-to-back losses at the NCAA Championships -- the only two singles defeats of her senior season -- a disappointing end for the three-time SEC Women's Tennis Player of the Year.

A few weeks later, Embree was in Buffalo, N.Y., to make her official professional debut at an ITF tournament that offered $10,000 to the champion. She was knocked out in the second round.

Her itinerary the rest of 2013 included stops in Sacramento, Yakima, Lexington, Fort Worth, Redding, Las Vegas, Macon and Rock Hill. Nice towns and all, but not exactly Melbourne, Paris, London and New York.

Her days as one of the best players in UF history were not that far in the rearview mirror, but they seemed a million miles away on those stops across the country from coast to coast.

"It was a transition for me,'' Embree said this week from California. "I was coming from college where everybody does pretty much everything for you. You have every resource you can possibly have and then you are thrown out onto the pro tour where you are all alone again.

"Making travel plans, figuring expenses, getting rackets, getting sponsorships, you do it all."

The highlight for Embree came in early August when she defeated Miyu Kato of Japan in the final of an ITF event in Fort Worth.

With her professional career underway, Embree still had unfinished business at UF. She needed to complete an internship to earn her undergraduate degree in sports management.

She tossed around different timetables in her head before deciding to come back to Gainesville to train in November and work toward her degree. Three weeks later she suffered a hip injury that required surgery.

Doctors told her that tennis was months away, so Embree turned her attention to rehab and that internship.

Note: You can read Embree's personal blog about her recovery here at AthleticDNA.com.

She has targeted a return to the WTA Tour in late June, but on Saturday, Embree will be back at UF to graduate.

"It's going to be exciting for me, just realizing that I've done so much these last few years, not only in tennis, but academically,'' she said. "I've come so far from when I first got to Florida and stuck it out and went through the whole process and grow as an individual.

"I was either going to do it this semester or wait and come back in a couple of years and finish. Looking back, it kind of all worked out because I got to finish school, get my hip healthy, and now I'm going to go back and start playing on the tour pro."

Embree, 23, helped the Gators win back-to-back national titles in 2011 and 2012 and finished with a perfect 39-0 record in dual-match SEC singles competition. When she returns to the court, it will be like starting all over.

According to the WTA's official website, Embree is currently the 544th ranked player in the world. To jumpstart her return to action, Embree plans to move to Santa Monica, Calif., after going with the Gators to next week's NCAA Championships.

She has enlisted former UCLA All-American Laura Gordon as her personal coach. Gordon is currently a Bruins assistant and a former assistant coach at Fresno State and Harvard.

While back at UF to finish her degree, Embree worked closely with Florida's training staff during her rehab and is confident she can return to form.

"I've started to play again,'' Embree said. "They told me about four to six months and it's been four months. I'm getting there but not fully back to where I need to be. I just want to be healthy, have a fresh start in the summer and just play for a full year and see how it goes."

If professional tennis doesn't work out for the Florida native, she will have her degree to help her open a new door.

Coming out of high school she faced a difficult decision whether to turn pro or go to college. She chose to go to school, and after a decorated career full of victories and memories, she anticipates an emotional day Saturday when she walks across the stage with her family and friends in attendance.

"I thought that college tennis was a possibility,'' Embree said. "As I started to do better, I thought, 'wow, that could be me.' And then when I had to decide whether to go to college or go pro, I picked college and Florida. I think that's the best decision I've ever made."

Why?

"To get an education in case tennis doesn't work out, because that happens to a lot of people. And to be able to play college tennis on a team is a thrill, to play for other people, to have other people cheering for you, that doesn't happen a lot in tennis. It was one of the greatest things for me."

 

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