For as much as the Florida Gators were in the news off the field in 2010, the Gator Nation was making plenty of headlines on it as well. From game-winning baskets to displays of pure emotion, Florida experienced some unique athletic moments in 2010. Below are OGGOA‘s Top 10 On the Field Moments of the Year.
OGGOA RELATED: Top 10 for 2010: Off the Field Stories of the Year
10 » FLORIDA WINS INAUGURAL LACROSSE GAME (2/20/10)
When Florida decided it wanted to start another women’s athletics program, the University Athletic Association did extensive research and found out that women’s lacrosse would be the perfect fit. In preparation for their first season, the Gators and head coach Amanda O’Leary secured the country’s No. 1 recruiting class (according to Inside Lacrosse Magazine). All the hard work and preparation to get the team ready paid off on Feb. 20 when lacrosse debuted in the brand new Donald R. Dizney Stadium to a boisterous crowd of 2,114 spectators. Florida defeated Jacksonville 16-6 behind four goals and four assists from freshman sensation Ashley Bruns. All-in-all the Gators faced 16 championship-caliber teams and played so well that they reached the 2010 ALC Tournament semifinals. In just their second year of existence, Florida women’s lacrosse is ranked as the No. 17 team in the country going into the 2011 season.
9 » NEAR VICTORIES/HEARTBREAKING LOSSES (5/25/10 * 3/18/10 * 10/9/10)
It is rare for teams to go undefeated and even less likely that an entire athletic program can go through a season without its share of close losses and nail biting finishes. Such was the case for the Gators in 2010. On May 25, No. 3 women’s tennis was barely defeated by the No. 8 Stanford Cardinal for the 2010 NCAA National Championship. Stanford won 4-3 after Florida rallied when they were just two individual games away from being defeated. The Gators forced third sets in two singles matches; sophomore Joanna Mather took down her opponent but senior No. 65 Marrit Boonstra was not as lucky. Losing her first set 6-4, Boonstra fought back to even her match with No. 33 Mallory Burdette by taking the second set 6-7 (4). Down 2-0 in the third, she pushed ahead with a valiant effort to take a 5-4 lead but ended up losing her final three games, the match itself and the championship.
Returning to the NCAA Tournament for the first time in three seasons, No. 10-seed Florida got in a bit easier than some might have expected. Matched up against the No. 7-seed Brigham Young Cougars in the event’s opening game, the Gators fought hard but could not stop Cougars star guard Jimmer Fredette. Allowing BYU to jump ahead 59-46 in the second half, UF came back behind freshman G Kenny Boynton and junior forward Chandler Parsons. Florida missed potential game-winners during regulation (Parsons) and the first overtime (Boynton) and eventually fell to Brigham Young 99-92 in a double-overtime heartbreaker with Fredette adding to his game-high 37 points.
Though losing a national championship and NCAA Tournament game are both difficult, Gators fans will probably look back on No. 12/14 Florida’s shocking loss to the No. 9/12 LSU Tigers on Oct. 10 as the worst near-victory of the season. Wearing orange jerseys for the first time since 1989, the Gators came back from a 12-point deficit when freshman wide receiver Andre Debose returned a kickoff 88 yards for a touchdown, sophomore running back Mike Gillislee rumbled in for a touchdown and redshirt junior quarterback John Brantley completed a two-point conversion to sophomore WR Frankie Hammond, Jr. to cap a 10-play, 80-yard drive. All Florida wanted when its defense came out was a stop, but LSU put together a 62-yard game-winning drive that included numerous third down conversions and a converted fake field goal attempt on fourth down from UF’s 36-yard line with 35 seconds remaining. Back-to-back passes to WR Terrence Toliver (of 28 and 3 yards, respectively) and the Tigers left The Swamp with a 33-29 victory. Players have noted that the loss was a negative turning point in the season, one that may or may not have led to the team dropping their third-straight game one week later at home to Mississippi State.
8 » MOMENTS OF RAW EMOTION (11/20/10 * 5/12/10)
What gets most fans to rise to their feet during athletic contests are spectacular plays, but in 2010 there were three on the field moments that received standing ovations for simply being emotional. After back-to-back 13-1 seasons including wins in two BCS bowl games, Gators football was expected to live up to the same level of greatness in 2010. Faced with a fractured locker room, rabid fan base and disappointing record, the team celebrated Senior Day prior to facing the Appalachian State Mountaineers. Though Florida would go on to win the game 48-10, the two most memorable moments from the game were not game-winning plays or athletic feats.
Running on the field individually to be recognized by head coach Urban Meyer and the roaring crowd, seniors safety Ahmad Black and center Mike Pouncey broke down crying. Black was so overcome with emotion that he took a knee in the end zone before sprinting to Meyer, while Pouncey kept his helmet on to hide his tears before running to Meyer and giving him a bear hug. “I don’t use the word ‘cry’ – that’s soft,” Meyer said after the game. “Whimper? Eye moisture and whimper. [Does] ‘whimper’ sound tough enough? Balled my eyes off then. I was emotional, those are good guys.”
That day was also special for redshirt senior walk-on Gary Beemer, a workhorse practice player who Meyer made sure scored a touchdown on Senior Day. After getting into the end zone on his third attempt, Beemer celebrated like he had won a championship by ripping off his helmet and letting his long hair flow. His jovial post-game press conference only furthered his 15 minutes of fame. “[It was] overwhelming,” he said of scoring the touchdown. “When you’re a kid you dream of something like this. And I’m a lineman, so the chance that – if I was a starter here – to score a touchdown as a defensive lineman is astronomical in itself. For them to just come up to me with seven minutes left in the fourth quarter and say, ‘Hey, would you like the ball on the goal line?’ I’m still trying to process it and make it a reality right now.”
In the same category as these moments was one that occurred on the baseball diamond. Recovered from a fractured face that kept him out two months and occurred when a line drive hit him directly in the mug, sophomore right-handed pitcher Tommy Toledo took the mound and received a standing ovation from the McKethan Stadium crowd of 3,147. Toledo was overcome with emotion during the moment. “That was probably one of the best feelings I’ve ever had here at Florida,” he said. “I wasn’t expecting that at all. […] I was shaking out there. The fans were amazing.” Freshman catcher Mike Zunino said the moment gave him and most of his teammates chills. A starter, Toledo came in as a relief pitcher during the game and helped his team complete a 7-3 victory.
7 » TWO NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIPS IN EIGHT DAYS (3/13/10 – 3/21/10)
No. 1 Florida men’s track & field captured its first NCAA Indoor Championship in 2010 and did so with a 13-point margin of victory over the second-place finisher (Oregon). Fantastic individual performances by senior Charlotte Browning (mile), freshman/sophomore Jeff Demps (60-meter dash), senior Mariam Kevkhishvili (shot put) and sophomore Christian Taylor (triple jump) propelled the Gators to victory. Pulling off an equally impressive feat was Florida’s women’s swimming and diving team, which captured the 2010 NCAA Championship with a near 2.5-point victory over second-place Stanford just eight days later. In all, 12 Gators were named All-Americans and five school records were set in the event. It was Florida’s first national title in women’s swimming since 1982.
6 » ENEA SETS HOME RUN RECORD, GETS ENGAGED ON SENIOR DAY (5/9/10)
Her final home game in the orange and blue was an emotional day for senior softball player Francesca Enea – for more than one reason. In addition to hitting her Southeastern Conference record 61st career home run and winning her final game with the Gators on Senior Day, Enea was surprised when her longtime boyfriend Christian Bruey proposed to her at the pitcher’s mound before the game in front of over a thousand fans. She said yes and, at the end of the season, traded in the black Florida jersey she was wearing that day for a bright white wedding dress. “I had a dream two years ago,” Enea said during the post-game press conference. “I told him, ‘I had a dream you proposed to me on Senior Day,’ and he said, ‘Well, that will never happen because I’ll never make enough money for the ring you want, and I said, ‘Yeah, you’re probably right.’ He said he wasn’t going to be able to make it [to the game] and I was giving him [grief] about it for weeks. […] All of a sudden someone shouted his name out from the crowd, I looked and saw him. He didn’t waste any time, he went right down on one knee. I was just shocked. Everything with Mother’s Day, my family being here, Senior Day, my engagement, it’s just amazing. I’m happy.”
5 » TEBOW DELIVERS SWEET FINALE WITH SUGAR BOWL PERFORMANCE (1/2/10)
Disappointed after losing the 2009 SEC Championship and coming off a week filled with seemingly endless questions and distractions, the No. 5 Gators routed the No. 3 Cincinnati Bearcats 51-24 in the 2010 Sugar Bowl. In the final game of his college career, Florida senior quarterback Tim Tebow delivered arguably his best performance, completing 31-of-35 passes for a career-high 482 yards passing and three touchdowns through the air to go along with 51 yards and another touchdown on the ground. Tebow, who won the game’s Most Outstanding Player award, completed his first 12 consecutive passes and finished with 533 total yards – more than anyone in both BCS and Sugar Bowl history. “It was incredible,” Tebow said of the contest. “Just a great game. It was exactly how you want to go out with these seniors and these coaches in your last game and your last time together. It just really doesn’t get any better than this.”
4 » BASEBALL ADVANCES TO COLLEGE WORLD SERIES WITH EXTRA INNINGS COMEBACK vs. MIAMI IN GAINESVILLE (6/13/10)
Looking to advance to the NCAA College World Series for the first time since 2005, No. 4 Gators baseball defeated the No. 11 Miami Hurricanes 4-3 in extra innings due to the Hurricanes tying a postseason school record with seven errors including three in the final two innings. In a rare position as the away team in their home stadium, Florida was down 3-2 with two outs and the bases loaded in the top of the ninth inning. Miami shortstop Stephen Perez was charged with a throwing error on a routine grounder by Zunino, which advanced all runners and tied the score. In the top of the 10th, freshman SS Nolan Fontana got on base after Canes right fielder Chris Pelaez misjudged a fly ball and eventually scored as his teammates drove him home for what would eventually be the game-winning run. The Gators also salvaged a 15-game home winning streak and extended their record to 30-9 all-time at home during NCAA play.
3 » VOLLEYBALL RALLIES TO BEAT FLORIDA STATE IN FIVE-SET THRILLER AND ADVANCE IN NCAA TOURNAMENT (12/4/10)
Having won 28 of their first 29 contests of the season, No. 1 Florida volleyball did not expect to be faced with too much opposition when they faced the Florida State Seminoles in the second round of the 2010 NCAA Championships at the Stephen C. O’Connell Center. Down two sets to one and facing elimination, the Lady Gators rallied together and pulled off a spectacular come-from-behind five-set victory to defeat their bitter rivals 3-2 (20-25, 25-22, 22-25, 25-21, 17-15). After squeaking out a win in the fourth set, Florida trailed by four points (11-7) in the final set and was facing a seemingly insurmountable deficit (considering it takes 15 points to win). Fighting to even things up, the Gators found themselves down 13-11 after senior outside hitter Callie Rivers nailed a service ace. The officials believed UF touched the ball four times on the next point and whistled them for illegal contact, giving FSU a temporary 14-11 lead before they decided to negate the call and play the point over. Florida would go on to tie the set at 13 and eventually win it outright after junior OH Kristy Jaeckel hit consecutive kills to win it 17-15. The Gators were so thrilled with their victory that they formed a dogpile at center court as the crowd erupted in applause.
2 » OVERTIME MIRACLES: HILL’s INTERCEPTION / HENRY’s FIELD GOAL (10/30/10)
Trying to stop the bleeding after losing three games in a row for the first time since 1988, Florida football entered the
World’s Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party against the Georgia Bulldogs and surprised their opponents with an up-tempo offense that kept them in the game despite the defense struggling for a third-straight contest. Nevertheless, the most memorable plays of the game did not come from the offensive side on the ball but instead from the secondary and special teams. Though only two of his three interceptions will count when looking at the box score 10 years from now, junior safety Will Hill’s performance will be remembered for some time. Following in the footsteps of some of the Gators’ other terrifying free safeties, Hill came through when it counted by saving a two-point conversion with a pick and starting Florida’s celebration early with an 89-yard interception return that was stopped four yards short of the goal line in overtime. “I was struggling earlier in the season and coaches never gave up on me, teammates never gave up on me,” Hill said after the game. “And for me to come out and playing like this, it’s just like paying the team back.’’
Though Hill’s play was the most electric, senior punter/kicker Chas Henry’s performance is likely the most memorable. After missing his initial field goal attempt wide left in the first quarter, Henry nailed two in a row including a 37-yarder in overtime to ice the game, start a massive celebration and allow the Gators to go 5-1 against the Bulldogs under Meyer. “It was the best feeling I’ve ever had,” he said in a post-game press conference. “The main thing that went through my mind was how I let my team down two weeks ago against Mississippi State. That was one of the hardest things I’ve had to go through. I got so much support through the coaches, my family and friends, and my brothers in the locker room. The internal family we have is as strong as you can get. I let them down one time. I was never going to let it happen again. It felt great. Unbelievable.”
Hill, Henry, their teammates and fans were not the only ones emotional about their performances. “Big play of the day,” Meyer said of Hill’s overtime pick. “We’ve been waiting for that all year. Will Hill played very well tonight.” He also commented on Henry’s game-winning kick, one which made Meyer drop to his knees on the field. “After he hit that field goal? It was Chas Henry hitting a damn field goal. Think about that for a minute. That’s not easy. I didn’t realize I [dropped to my knees]. It was a good moment.”
1 » OH MY! PARSONS HITS TWO BUZZER BEATERS IN JANUARY! (1/3/10 * 1/23/10)
Hitting a buzzer beater in a game will automatically get you a spot on SportsCenter’s Top 10. But hitting two not only in less than a month? That gets you on ESPN’s Top 10 Plays of the Year. Who are we to deny Parsons a similar honor here at OGGOA? Down two with 2.6 seconds left in overtime, Parsons converted a missed free throw into a 75-foot buzzer-beating, game-winning three-pointer to give Florida a big road win over the N.C. State Wolfpack. Just 20 days later, chants of “Chandler! Chandler! Chandler!” rang throughout the O’Connell Center as Parsons did it again with another game-winning, buzzer-beating three-pointer. South Carolina Gamecocks guard Devan Downey hit a dynamic layup and left 5.1 seconds on the clock. Senior F Dan Werner grabbed the ball and immediately inbounded it to sophomore point guard Erving Walker, who drove the length of the court before dishing it to Parsons, who was waiting beyond the arc. Keep your eyes pealed for Werner calling Parsons’s shot in the N.C. State video and injured F Adam Allen limping down the court to celebrate with Parsons after the USC win.
Photo Credits: John Raoux/Associated Press, The Gainesville Sun, University of Florida, Stephen Morton/AP