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Seniors' run at Florida comes to an end

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Posted: Sunday, April 27, 2014 11:30 pm

Florida’s three seniors waited four years for their Senior Day cake.

They would have to wait just a little longer.

After the last home match of their collegiate careers, Olivia Janowicz, Alexandra Cercone and Sofie Oyen managed to wipe away their tears, pull away from their farewell cake, and pile into the conference room at the Ring Tennis Complex.

It turned out Senior Day wasn’t all it was cracked up to be.

“The first two years we just wanted to go to summer vacation, and now we don’t want any breaks,” a teary-eyed Oyen said. “We just want to be here, and now it’s over and it’s sad. I want to go back.”

As part of their final home match, the three seniors each received framed, orange jerseys embroidered with their names, a homemade collage from their teammates, and a chance to reminisce on their last four years at Florida.

What piece of advice would each give their freshman selves, given the chance?

Janowicz laughed.

“Slow it down, if you can,” she said. “And just appreciate every moment from the beginning, because I think I kind of wanted to rush through and grow up, but now I wish I could go back.”

Cercone agreed.

“Especially right now. I mean, we did pretty well our freshman and sophomore years,” an emotional Cercone said. “But just to take a step back and enjoy it and really think about what’s going on here. It’s really special.”

In her first two years, Cercone was a doubles All-American, named to the NCAA All-tournament team and 2011 SEC freshmen team, and led her peers with 66 singles wins.

“When they came in as freshmen, yeah they were freshmen, and they didn’t have to play starring roles, but they were certainly very instrumental in us winning immediately,” coach Roland Thornqvist said.

During Janowicz’s time as an underclassman, she was named to the SEC all-freshmen team, SEC all-tournament team, and won the 2011 Southeast region Rookie of the Year.

Oyen was named to the 2011 NCAA all-tournament team, all-SEC first team, and was a 2011 Riviera/ITA All-American doubles finalist.

Now, as seniors, their resumes are even more impressive.

The trio has compiled 102 dual-match wins, sustained four undefeated home seasons, captured three Southeastern Conference championships, and won two NCAA titles.

Their 584 combined singles and doubles wins are the most by any senior class in the history of Florida’s 42-year tennis program.

Thornqvist had no clue.

“Is that right? Wow,” he said. “Well, there you go. Their tennis accomplishments speak for themselves.”

Janowicz, Cercone and Oyen are easily Florida’s most decorated senior class, but are they the best Thornqvist has ever coached?

“Yeah, absolutely,” the three-time national championship coach said. “I mean it has to be among them. We’ve had some outstanding players, but we may not have had three at the same time of this caliber.”

After three seasons of playing behind older players, the seniors finally had their moment in the spotlight on Senior Day.

“It was just nice to have a day where we kind of got to be the center of attention,” Cercone said.

The trio spent several years biding their time behind former All-Americans Lauren Embree and Allie Will, waiting until it was their turn to lead.

As they made the transition from juniors to seniors, Thornqvist wanted to see all three embrace their leadership role and guide the team’s freshmen through the season.

Not only did Janowicz, Cercone and Oyen evolve into the team’s unquestioned leaders, but they also matured into invaluable teammates.

“All three have been instrumental in the championship runs, but the people you’re proudest of that come through this program aren’t necessarily the ones that raise trophies,” Thornqvist said.

“It’s the ones who sort of embrace what we’re all about here. The loyal ones, the ones that put Florida first, who are willing to help and even if they lose, still support. These three are unselfish, they’re loyal, and they help the youngsters get better and tougher. That’s what you remember ten years from now.”

Janowicz has perhaps played the most important leadership role, mentoring freshman Kourtney Keegan in doubles play and helping her flourish into one of the top doubles players in the nation.

“All of them have been really awesome the entire year,” Keegan said. “Obviously being Olivia’s partner I’ve always been around her more, but they have all been great in mentoring us. They tell us what not to do, what to do, and they set the example the entire year.”

Even after falling short of a fourth consecutive SEC championship, Cercone and Janowicz were named to the first team All-SEC and Oyen was named to the second team.

In a few weeks, Florida’s three seniors will have an opportunity to compete for a doubles and singles national title.

“[Olivia, Alex and Sophie] have been part of an unparalleled stretch of success in our program’s history,” Thornqvist said. “They’ve raised a lot of trophies, those three. It’s been a blessing to have them here and its bittersweet to have it come to an end.”

After four years of hard work and unprecedented success, the three seniors have secured Florida a place among the nation’s elite tennis programs.

Now, they finally have a chance to reflect on their illustrious collegiate careers.

So, what’s next?

“Let’s have some cake,” proposed Oyen.

And eat it, too.

Follow Ian Cohen on Twitter @ibcohen5

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