For as much as the Florida Gators were in the news off the field in 2012 (check out Sunday’s post), the Gator Nation was making plenty of headlines on it as well. From breathtaking moments, game-changing and game-winning plays to winning championships and setting world records, Florida accomplished some unique athletic feats in 2012. Below are OGGOA‘s Top 12 On the Field Moments of the Year.
12 » MISSED IT BY THAT MUCH
If there was a theme to Gators athletics in the spring it was Florida teams falling short of their goals. In addition to men’s indoor track & field, women’s outdoor track & field and men’s swimming & diving all just coming up just short of winning major titles, basketball, baseball, gymnastics, lacrosse and softball all gave valiant efforts but faced immense disappointment in the end. It all started with the Gators basketball team, which advanced to the Elite Eight for the second-straight year and once again choked away a late lead and failed to advance to the Final Four. Up 11 points with 8:14 left in the game, Florida was outscored 18-3 down the stretch by Louisville, which held on for the 72-68 victory. The Gators hit just 1-of-12 shots over the final 8:14 while also going 1-for-4 from the charity stripe down the stretch and 0-for-9 from downtown over the final 20 minutes. Gymnastics did just about everything it could during the 2012 NCAA Super Six in late April but came just short of earning the first national title in program history, falling 197.850-197.775 to Alabama and losing by 0.075 points. Next up was softball, which looked primed to return to the championship game of the 2012 Women’s College World Series for the third time in the last four years. Instead, Florida got upended 10-1 by eventual national champion Alabama in the finals of the 2012 SEC Tournament and was eliminated in the Gainesville Regional portion of the 2012 NCAA Tournament due in part to suspensions levied against three key players. It was the first time since 2006 that UF did not at least advance to the Super Regional. A controversial finish led to another tough loss for lacrosse (see No. 9), leaving one sport to provide the ultimate disappointment to Gators fans in 2012.
Perhaps most heartbreaking for Gators fans was seeing a baseball team that was the national title favorite from the very start of the season fall fast and finish the campaign without a single title. Cruising along in the SEC Tournament with a one-run lead and three outs to go in the championship game, Florida baseball collapsed against Vanderbilt, allowing its opponents to score five runs on five hits in the top of the ninth and hold on for the title. Junior closer Austin Maddox imploded after coming on to get the final three outs, giving up a lead-off double to right and eventually allowing Vandy to tie the game after a sacrifice bunt, hit batter and suicide squeeze. It only got worse from there. The Commodores accomplished a double steal, hit an infield single, loaded the bases (intentional walk, double steal, intentional walk) and then pulled off a triple steal to score their third run of the inning. A two-run single put the nail in the coffin as the Gators allowed more stolen bases in a single frame (seven) than had ever been given up in an entire SEC Tournament game in the history of the event. With horrible memories of the SEC Tournament behind them and the NCAA Tournament upcoming, Florida hoped to use the experience to improve as a team. The Gators did advance to the College World Series but were swept right out of it with consecutive losses. Florida fell 7-3 to South Carolina in its first game before allowing an unranked Kent State team to register a 5-4 upset victory in the second game. The Gators coughed up four unearned runs, committed two errors and failed to plate runs despite having numerous opportunities to hit with runners in scoring position. With so much talent on the roster and a track record of success – the team got to the championship series just one year earlier – Florida baseball legitimately blew a great national title chance.
11 » FLORIDA SWEEPS FSU IN FOOTBALL, BASKETBALL, BASEBALL
For the first time in school history, the Gators swept the Seminoles in football, basketball and baseball (5-0) in a calendar year. Florida State having a historically successful baseball team has stood in the way of Florida’s ability to accomplish this feat in the past, but Gators baseball completed its first regular-season sweep of the Seminoles since 1958 by earning a 9-2 victory in Gainesville, FL, 4-1 victory in Jacksonville, FL and a 6-3 win on the road in Tallahassee, FL. Florida football bounced back from consecutive losses to FSU with a 37-26 beat down in Tallahassee, and UF basketball matched the football team’s intensity with a 72-47 rout on the road.
10 » LaCAZE’S HISTORIC DAY, NATIONAL OLYMPIC APPEAL
Despite being an accomplished athlete, senior distance runner Genevieve LaCaze was probably relatively unknown by Gators fans before she made headlines in May and June. LaCaze first made a splash with her performance on the track as she won three individual titles at the 2012 SEC Outdoor Championships – the 3,000-meter steeplechase, 1,500 meter run and 5,000-meter run. She became the first student-athlete in SEC history to win both the steeplechase and 1,500-meters and was obviously also the first to win all three championships when she added the 5,000-meters title. For her efforts, LaCaze won the Commissioner’s Trophy as the highest point scorer at the event. It was the first time since 2002 that a UF female had won the title as she tied the school women’s record for most points scored at an individual meet (30).
Though LaCaze was having a great year, she was dismayed to learn one month later that her home country of Australia would not accept her as a participant for the 2012 London Olympics despite the fact that she achieved an Olympic ‘A’ Standard qualifying time of 9:41.15 in the 3,000-meter steeplechase. LaCaze registered the mark just over a day after an arbitrary cutoff date mandated by Athletics Australia that was two weeks earlier than the deadline set by the Australian Olympic Committee. In response, she lodged an appeal against her exclusion with AA, noting that the reason she achieved the time after the cutoff date was because she was competing in a collegiate system in the United States and did not have her next race until after the scheduled date. She was initially told her chances of winning the appeal were not good. However, the Australian public got behind her in a big way and she even received written support from the AOC president, who noted that she deserved to be a part of the team. In the end, common sense prevailed and LaCaze won her appeal. She did not win a medal at the Olympics but was nevertheless deserving of the opportunity to compete.
9 » LACROSSE TAKES ANOTHER BIG STEP, COMES UP SHORT
The Florida lacrosse program has been making history since the day it signed the nation’s No. 1 ranked recruiting class prior to the team’s inaugural season in 2010. The Gators took a big step the next year with their first regular season ALC title, but they fell to Northwestern in the finals of the 2011 ALC Tournament and were bounced out of the NCAA Tournament by Duke in the Elite Eight round. Another year older and wiser, Florida knocked off Northwestern for its second-straight ALC title and beat them again two weeks later for the program’s first-ever ALC Tournament championship. The ladies then made history by becoming the youngest program to ever advance to the Final Four after they routed Penn State 15-2 in Elite Eight action. The Gators looked primed to advance to the national championship game but ultimately wound up disappointed as Florida blew a seven-goal second-half lead to Syracuse in the Final Four and eventually fell 14-13 in sudden death overtime. Though the loss was final and in the books, Syracuse’s monumental comeback was called into question by OGGOA shortly after the game concluded. The Gators netted what would have been a game-winning goal with nine seconds left in the first overtime; however, it was rescinded after referees determined that the lace on junior attacker Gabi Wiegand’s stick was too deep and therefore illegal. Florida asked referees to inspect Orange senior midfielder Sarah Holden’s stick in the same manner after she scored her sudden-death goal, but it was determined to be legal and Syracuse celebrated its victory. However, video replay of the goal clearly shows that another SU player grabbed the stick out of Holden’s hand after her goal and proceeded to tug and pull at the lace. Was her stick tampered with following the goal and before referees evaluated it? You be the judge.
8 » NEARLY PERFECT CRAWFORD TOSSES NO-HITTER
With Florida reeling from a tough SEC Tournament loss and hosting the Gainesville Regional at McKethan Stadium, sophomore right-handed pitcher Jonathan Crawford provided the Gators with some momentum as he tossed the fourth solo no-hitter in program history and the seventh all-time in the NCAA Tournament. Crawford faced just 27 batters in his first career NCAA Tournament appearance, registering five strikeouts and retiring the side in every inning but the third. Junior catcher Mike Zunino threw out the only base runner Crawford allowed via a base on balls. Freshman second baseman Casey Turgeon made a key play when he jumped up and stole what otherwise would have been a line drive single in the bottom of the ninth with two outs to clinch the no-hitter. Crawford tossed the first no-hitter for both the team and in the event since UF’s John Burke threw one against Furman in the 1991 NCAA Tournament. Crawford (9.0 IP, 0 H, 0 ER, BB, 5 K) threw just 98 pitches in the no-hit outing and was consistently hitting 98 mph in the ninth inning. Strangely enough, a no-hitter was thrown by the New York Mets’ Johan Santana in the same day. According to ESPN’s Stats & Info Twitter account, June 1, 2012 was the first day since May 23, 1991 that there was a postseason NCAA no-hitter and MLB no-hitter thrown on the same date. Just like Crawford’s was overshadowed that day, Burke had his no-no ranked second behind one by Tommy Greene of the Philadelphia Phillies. As if all of that was not weird enough, Gators assistant coach Brad Weitzel supposedly predicted the no-hitter before the game. “He said, ‘The pen was the best he’s thrown this year, and he might throw a no-hitter.’ I will confirm that he did say that,” head coach Kevin O’Sullivan noted.
7 » RYAN LOCHTE SETS TWO WORLD RECORDS IN AS MANY DAYS
Michael Phelps may have bested him on the biggest international stage of the year, but former Florida swimmer Ryan Lochte still captured eight gold medals and 13 total medals combined at the 2012 London Olympics and 2012 FINA World Swimming Championships over the last calendar year. Lochte’s Olympic accomplishments and total medals aside (more on that later), he also set a pair of world records in a two-day span while swimming in Istanbul, Turkey in the middle of December. Already the owner of the short course world records in the 400 Meter Individual Medley and 200 Meter Individual Medley, Lochte bested his own time in the 200M I.M. and became the first athlete to swim the event in under 1:50 by posting a time of 1:49.63 on Dec. 14. The next day, he set a new world record in the 100 Meter Individual Medley, swimming the race in a blazing 50.71 seconds. Lochte now holds all three short course I.M. world records and has strengthened his hold as the best short-course swimmer alive and perhaps the best in the history of the sport, too. He claims five total world records as he also holds the 200M I.M. (long course) record and was part of an American team that owns the world record in the 4×200 Meter Freestyle Relay (long course).
6 » MEN’S TRACK AND FIELD SWEEPS NCAA CHAMPIONSHIPS
The top-ranked Gators men’s track & field team made history on March 10 by winning their third-straight national title at the 2012 NCAA Indoor Championships. Led by individual national championship victories from juniors sprinter Jeff Demps (60-meter dash) and jumper Omar Craddock (triple jump), Florida managed to clinch the title despite senior Gray Horn going down with an injury while leading the heptathlon, which was considered an important event for UF to win. The indoor title was nothing for the student-athletes or fan base to sneeze at, but the Gators had won the event in each of the last two years and were the odds-on favorite heading in.
What really got Gator Nation going was when Florida won the 2012 NCAA Outdoor Championship on June 9, clinching the outdoor title and sweeping championships for the entire season for the first time in program history. It came down to the wire for the Gators that day as they were down two points to LSU heading into the final event. However, Florida registered a 2012 world-leading finish (3:00.02) to win the individual national title in the 4×400 Meter Relay and clinch the team championship. Freshmen Dedrick Dukes and Hugh Graham, Jr. linked up with juniors Leonardo Seymore and Tony McQuay to win the first championship in that event in program history and ensure that the Gators hoisted the national title trophy. McQuay (400-meter dash) and Craddock (triple jump) also won individual titles in the event to help propel Florida forward as neither Demps nor Horn (suspension) competed. “We lost our best sprinter, we lost our best decathlete and our 4×100 didn’t qualify,” head coach Mike Holloway said after the victory. “A lot of people would have given up hope, but our group of guys didn’t. I sat them down after Regionals and I said ‘We are still the best team in the country, as long as you believe it,’ and our guys believed it.”
5 » WOMEN’S TENNIS GOES BACK-TO-BACK
Florida women’s tennis, from a national success standpoint, is the most accomplished program in school history. And while the Gators have had plenty of success on the courts, a thrilling come-from-behind victory one year ago in the national title game catapulted the women’s tennis program and then-sophomore Lauren Embree to No. 2 on the “Top 11 for 2011.” A junior in 2012, Embree remained the second-ranked player on the Florida tennis team but stood out all season long as a leader for the Gators, which were looking to repeat for the first time in school history. Florida went a perfect 11-0 in SEC play to win the 2012 regular season title and came away with its third-straight SEC Tournament championship one week later after taking down Georgia 4-1. Six Gators picked up All-SEC awards for their efforts, and Embree received her second SEC Player of the Year honor after first winning it as a freshman in 2010. She became just the second player in school history to win the award twice in her career (Jill Craybas 1995-96) and ensured that UF kept the honor in its grasp as Allie Will picked it up in 2011. The only proper way for Florida to conclude another amazing season was with a second-straight national championship and that is exactly what the Gators accomplished on May 22 as they became just the second team in the history of the sport to win back-to-back national titles. Florida ended its season on a 22-match winning streak and swept four of five opponents it faced in the NCAA Tournament on the way to a sixth national title. The Gators played for the title for the third-straight year (losing to Stanford in 2010) and won this championship with a 4-0 sweep of top-ranked UCLA. As fate would have it, Embree was once again tasked with closing out the national title for Florida. Unlike her grueling three-set tiebreaker in 2011, she made short work of her opponent in 2012 and registered a 6-4, 6-0 victory to secure the national championship for Florida. She was also named the event’s Most Outstanding Player for the second-straight year. “It’s amazing. I still can’t really believe that just happened again that we went back-to-back. It’s just so exciting; I’m so proud of my teammates,” she said. “It’s a dream come true again. Our team has worked so hard, and I just feel like we played so well this week. I’m so proud of them.”
4 » NFL PLAYOFFS = TEBOW TIME
Tebowmania encompassed the 2011 season, but it actually reached its apex on Jan. 8, 2012 as then-Denver Broncos quarterback Tim Tebow led his team to an improbable overtime victory against Pittsburgh in the wild card round of the NFL Playoffs. Concluding a game in which he registered a season- and career-high 316 passing yards, Tebow threaded an 80-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Demaryius Thomas to lead Denver to a 29-23 victory on the first play from scrimmage in overtime. The throw itself was Tebow’s career-long as well as the longest overtime touchdown in NFL history. He finished with three scores on the day and thousands of new believers including celebrities, analysts and everyday fans. Twitter exploded as soon as Thomas crossed the end zone with everyone from Lady Gaga, Snoop Dogg and Ashton Kutscher to Emmit Smith, Fred Taylor and Kurt Warner singing Tebow’s praises. A year later, tunes have changed about Tebow and his NFL future but there is no doubting that particular moment’s relevance in 2012.
3 » FOOTBALL RETURNS TO PROMINENCE WITH MEMORABLE SEASON
It all started back on the second day of 2012 in the Gator Bowl when head coach Will Muschamp took a team that underperformed all season long and saw its defense and special teams lead the way to an emotional 24-17 victory over Ohio State. Muschamp promised fans when he took over the program that Florida would be a pro-style team that took care of the ball, ran it down opponents’ throats and played with a hard-nosed mentality on defense. Some fans wanted to put him on the hot seat immediately after the Gators narrowly avoided their first losing season in nearly three decades and calls for his job intensified in the first week of the 2012 campaign when Florida beat Bowling Green by just 13 points in a performance that left those covering the team wondering if the Gators would be any better this year.
No one is asking those questions anymore. Florida won championships in other sports in 2012 and saw former student-athletes accomplish major feats on their own, but football is still king in Gator Nation and what Muschamp accomplished in his second year is nothing short of remarkable. Consecutive come-from-behind road victories over Texas A&M and Tennessee made it obvious that the Gators had turned a corner, but a dominant ground-and-pound effort that resulted in a 14-6 home win against LSU let it be known that Florida was not a program to mess with in 2012. The Gators made that statement clear by routing South Carolina 44-11 in a beat down that was just as surprising to both coaches as it was their fan bases. A turnover-filled loss to Georgia kept Florida out of the national championship game in the end, but a 37-26 throttling of Florida State in the regular season finale gave UF fans plenty to smile about.
The Gators were sexy again. Florida won 11 regular season games for the fifth time in school history and improved to 4-1 against teams in the top 12 of the BCS standings at the time after going 0-5 against top 25 teams the previous year. The Gators accomplished all of this with the toughest schedule in the country by winning turnover battles, possessing the ball longer than opponents and putting an emphasis on running the football. UF also proved that it could come from behind in any game. The five-game turnaround and BCS bowl appearance are great for Florida, but they were far from the only major occurrence that happened on the field for the football team. Redshirt sophomore linebacker Neiron Ball returned to the field this season after missing the entire 2011 campaign when a blood vessel burst in his brain and he was diagnosed with a hereditary vascular condition. Senior running back Mike Gillislee and redshirt senior kicker Caleb Sturgis also had career years with Gillislee becoming the first rusher to gain more than 1,000 yards since 2004 and Sturgis setting career- and single-season record for made field goals. The Gators can end the 2012 campaign on a jazzy note with a victory in the Sugar Bowl, which may very well find a spot in the “Top 13 for 2013” one year from now.
2 » WAMBACH LEADS U.S. WOMEN’S SOCCER TO GOLD MEDAL
Former Gators striker and U.S. Women’s National Team star Abby Wambach checked in with the No. 1 moment in OGGOA’s “Top 11 of 2011” despite suffering a heartbreaking defeat to Japan in the finals of the 2011 Women’s World Cup. As luck would have it, Wambach, former Florida defender Heather Mitts and the entire United States squad had an opportunity to avenge their loss from one year earlier in the 2012 London Olympics and wound up doing exactly that in July. Wambach led the Americans with a goal in each of the team’s first four matches on the way to a semifinal showdown against rival Canada. In that game, a back-and-forth contest that was filled with controversial calls and lead changes, Wambach’s intelligence led to an official making a tough call and her play forced the match into extra time when she scored a goal in her fifth-straight game. With the contest about to head into a penalty kick tiebreaker, the United States shocked the world as forward Alex Morgan darted a shot into the corner of the net at 2:22 into a three-minute injury time. Wambach did not score in the Gold Medal Match against Japan but did serve as a source of inspiration for her entire team. The Americans registered a 2-1 victory thanks to some spectacular net work by goalkeeper Hope Solo and brought home gold for the third-straight Olympics (fourth in the last five). The gold medal was Wambach’s second and Mitts’s third in as many Olympics. Mitts has since retired from professional soccer, but Wambach is closing in on Mia Hamm’s career international goals record and has promised to participate in the 2016 Rio Olympics.
1 » GATOR NATION AT THE 2012 LONDON OLYMPICS
Wambach’s Olympic moment undoubtedly stood on its own, but Gator Nation bringing home 16 event medals including four gold, six silver and six bronze over 19 days worth of action at the 2012 London Olympics easily takes the No. 1 spot in this countdown. By the time the Olympics were over, Gator Nation (as its own country) would have been ranked 17th overall in the final medal count both in weighted and grand total calculations. The Gators won as many gold medals (four) as Jamaica and Czech Republic and captured one more than Spain, Brazil and South Africa (among others). Twelve Florida athletes won a grand total of 18 individual medals (16 event medals) for three countries with 14 of the 16 event medals going to the United States. 35.3 percent (12-of-34) of the Gators that competed in the Olympics won at least one medal while 50 percent (17-of-34) at least reached a final or competed for a medal. In all, 17 countries were represented by Florida athletes including the United States (11), Great Britain (6), Cayman Islands and Iceland (two each) and Australia, Barbados, Canada, Haiti, Hungary, Jamaica, Poland, Puerto Rico, South Africa, Spain and Tunisia (one each). Gators competed in five sport categories including swimming (19), athletics (10), football (three), basketball and tennis (one each).
Lochte led the way with five total medals, but swimmer Elizabeth Beisel (a current student-athlete) and jumper Will Claye both brought home two (a silver and bronze each). Joining Lochte, Wambach and Mitts with a gold was jumper Christian Taylor. Silver medals were won by sprinters Tony McQuay and Jeff Demps (a late addition to the team). Tennis player Lisa Raymond, soccer alternate Melanie Booth (Canada) and sprinter Novlene Williams-Mills (Jamaica) won bronze.
In addition to scoring goals in five of six games for the United States, Wambach was on the pitch for the Americans for 98 percent of their games (558-of-570 minutes). She and Mitts played in front of 80,203 patrons, an Olympic record for a women’s soccer match. Lochte’s performance in the Olympics may have disappointed some, but many were unaware of his extremely difficult schedule which included him competing in six events over the course of six days and swimming in 13 total races including three on July 29 and four on Aug. 1. Raymond lost the women’s doubles Bronze Medal Match but won it for mixed doubles. McQuay was disappointed that he did not qualify for the finals of the Men’s 400 Meter Dash as an individual but made up for it in a big way in the Men’s 4×400 Meter Relay as he ran the fastest split out of anyone in the world in the first round (43.65) and again in the finals (43.41). Basketball player Azania Stewart (Great Britain) did whatever she could to help her country win its first-ever women’s basketball game in the Olympics; though they came excruciatingly close on multiple occasions, the British always seemed to fall short.
Thursday, Aug. 9 on its own was a day that will live in Gators athletics history as five Florida athletes captured a total of four event medals. Taylor and Claye finished gold-silver in the Men’s Triple Jump, Wambach and Mitts brought home gold and Booth added a bronze. Taylor became the youngest jumper in over 100 years to win gold in the event and captured the first individual track & field gold in program history. Taylor and Claye combined to win the first three field medals in school history in the Olympics. The Gators were also represented by a pair of coaches including Holloway (assistant coach for U.S. track & field) and Gregg Troy (head coach for U.S. men’s swimming). The Pride of the Sunshine Fightin’ Gator Marching Band even spent a week in London playing for dignitaries and fans as well as touring the city. More than 230 members of the band represented Florida in London thanks to mostly private donations.
The 2012 London Olympics also marked one of the most painstaking yet rewarding and fulfilling endeavors that OGGOA has undertaken in our 3+ years of existence. The website did some of its best traffic ever over the course of the Olympics, one of our Facebook posts was the most-liked, shared and commented on in the history of our page and the number of tweets that were retweeted on Twitter appeared to be seemingly endless at times.
Photo Credits (in order): John Raoux/Associated Press, Michael Dodge/Herald Sun, PrettySporty, ESPN, Associated Press, Unknown, Gregory Bull/Associated Press