By Steve Pratt
Lauren Embree has her sights focused on the goal of one day becoming an NCAA Division I women’s tennis head coach.
So when the opportunity arose recently for Embree to take another step toward attaining that dream, the former five-time ITA All-American and two-time NCAA team champion jumped at it, returning to her alma mater this spring as an assistant coach under her former college coach and mentor Roland Thornqvist at the University of Florida.
Considered one of the greatest women’s tennis players to ever come out of the Gainesville, Fla., school, Embree returns to her home state after serving the past two seasons as the women’s assistant coach at Pepperdine University in Southern California.
“It really is returning to my roots and I couldn’t be more excited,” said Embree, who recently spent time in Roehampton, England, near London where she was scouting some of the world’s top juniors. “It was such a hard decision because I loved Pepperdine and what we were able to do there. But for me to return to where I’m from and where my family is and to work with my former coach as my boss, I just couldn’t turn it down.”
It was Embree who was last on the court in consecutive seasons clinching the NCAA title for Florida in 2011 and 2012 and twice being named the NCAA Tournament’s Most Valuable Player. She wasn’t done there. Following her run on the professional tour which saw her amass 92 career singles wins and 60 career doubles wins on the WTA and USTA Pro Circuit, Embree joined the Gators late in the 2017 season and helped them earn a seventh NCAA team title.
“When I graduated from Florida (in 2013) and toward the end of my pro career I knew I wanted to coach,” said Embree, a former three-time SEC Player of the Year. “I was able to help Florida near the end of 2017 but was still living in Santa Monica.
“When the Pepperdine job opened, I couldn’t even get (Pepperdine women’s coach) Per (Nilsson) to call me back. But I just kept calling him and we finally met and totally hit it off,” Embree added. “It was a great place to work because I was learning something new every day. I love the role I had there. Per is an unreal guy and unreal coach so it was so hard to leave.”
While at Pepperdine, Embree, helped guide the Waves to a pair of NCAA Championship appearances and conference titles. This past season, Pepperdine advanced to the NCAA Quarterfinal where it fell to eventual champion Stanford and in 2018 the Waves made a run to the Round of 16. Pepperdine used 9-0 records to win the West Coast Conference in 2018 and 2019. Coaching alongside Per Nilsson, Embree helped produce 17 All-West Coast Conference honorees in her two seasons.
“Lauren fit perfectly with what Pepperdine is all about,” Nilsson said. “She’s professional, hard-working and has a positive attitude. She was super fun to work with and we wish her the best.”
Thornqvist echoed Nilsson’s thoughts, and knows he’s getting a true winner with Embree.
“We are so fortunate to be able to get Lauren back to help us reach new heights of excellence. Obviously, she knows firsthand what it takes to get there and will provide crucial leadership to this young group,” Thornqvist said. “Her professionalism and character are exactly what we need and what better role model for our players than perhaps the greatest team player to ever have worn our jersey.”
Embree said her strengths are her leadership skills and that she leads by example. “I relate with the girls and know what it means to train hard and what it takes to win,” she said. “It’s rewarding when are able to do things the right way. The teams that I was on had a strong culture and looking back now I see how uncommon that is.”
Embree was named
ITA National Rookie of the Year in 2010 and ITA National Senior Player of the
Year in 2013. She spent the entirety of her senior season ranked No. 1 in the
ITA rankings, posting a dual match record of 20-1.