Florida soccer splits, volleyball sweeps

Coming off back-to-back victories in South Florida, No. 8 Florida Gators soccer looked to continue their stellar start with a pair of contests against ranked opponents on the road in Knoxville, TN over the weekend. Florida (3-1-0) wound up defeating the No. 18 Texas A&M Aggies (1-2-0) 3-2 in exciting fashion on Friday before suffering their first loss of the season 2-0 to the No. 15 UCLA Bruins (3-0-0) on Sunday.

The Gators jumped ahead 1-0 in the 25th minute when junior midfielder Erika Tymrak corralled a through ball from freshman MF Havana Solaun and pocketed it into the net. The Aggies responded quickly with back-to-back goals from Annie Kunz and Kelley Monogue before UF was able to tie it up at 39’. Senior MF Lindsay Thompson sailed a cross from the right wing to the left post, which sophomore forward Taylor Travis headed in for her second goal of the season.

All was quiet in the second half as the clock began to run down. With just 15 seconds remaining, Florida redshirt junior F McKenzie Barney found a cross in the middle of the field and buried the game-winning goal into the net from six yards out.

For the second straight day, Gators senior goalkeeper Brooke Chancey allowed two goals past her on Sunday, but this time her teammates did not accomplish anything on the offensive end to support her. UCLA scored at 35’ and 72’ to put Florida away 2-0, keeping their undefeated season alive while handing the Gators their first loss.

Back in Gainesville, FL at the Stephen C. O’Connell Center, No. 9 Gators volleyball was looking to start the season strong by participating in the Active Ankle SEC/ACC Challenge. The ladies won back-to-back contests in the two-day event to earn the team championship, and the Southeastern Conference defeated the ACC 3-1.

Florida (2-0) swept the Boston College Eagles (1-0) 3-0 on Friday, defeating them in straight sets 25-11, 25-15, 25-16. Senior middle-back Cassandra Anderson and senior outside hitter Kristy Jaeckel led the team with 11.0 and 10.5 points, respectively, while also combining for 13 kills. The Gators notched 14 aces in the match, and senior right-side/setter Kelly Murphy and sophomore setter Channel Brown combined for 27 assists.

Continuing their good fortunes on Sunday, Florida similarly swept the North Carolina Tar Heels (1-1) 3-0 via straight sets of 25-17, 25-20, 25-14. Senior OH Stephanie Ferrell earned the tournament’s MVP award after registering 20 kills over the weekend (including 13 on Sunday). Joining her on the All-Tournament Team were Jaeckel (double-double with 12 kills, 10 digs), Murphy (match-high 20 assists, eight kills, seven digs) and redshirt freshman libero Taylor Unroe (19 digs combined).

The University of Florida has began its 2011-12 athletic season a combined 5-1 and will look to continue its ways as its two women’s teams take part in five more games this week before the football team takes the field on Saturday evening.

Gators Halapio, Okine involved in car crash

Florida Gators redshirt sophomore right guard Jon Halapio and redshirt junior defensive tackle Earl Okine were involved in a crash on I-10 in Madison County on Sunday.

The car they were driving “hit small trees and bushes in the median,” according to WCTV, but both players appear to be unharmed after emergency medical personnel dispatched to the scene evaluated the two young men.

A Florida spokesman confirmed to the Orlando Sentinel Sunday evening that the players were not injured in the crash. Expectations are that both will be at practice Monday.

Dolphins to honor Gators championship team

Two former Florida GatorsMiami Dolphins center Mike Pouncey and Denver Broncos quarterback Tim Tebow – will meet up on Oct. 23 when their teams go head-to-head in a regular season contest at Sun Life Stadium. In order to cash in on Tebow’s cache and generate additional ticket sales for the contest, the Dolphins have decided to honor the Gators 2009 BCS National Championship team that Sunday.

Florida defeated Oklahoma 24-14 at what was then Dolphins Stadium on Jan. 8, 2009 to win its second national title in three years. Pouncey started at right guard in the game, and Tebow accumulated 353 total yards and three touchdowns while throwing two interceptions in the Gators’ victory.

Miami has invited a number of former players who are not in the NFL to join the celebration. More than 20 have already confirmed and head coach Urban Meyer will also be in attendance along with Albert and the pep band. UF has a bye that weekend.

Numerous Gator Clubs in South Florida are hosting the inaugural Gator Day at the stadium. Ticket packages begin at $115 per person (subject to availability) and include a pre-game tailgate celebration; gameday ticket; all-you-can-eat and all-you-can-drink refreshments; a team cheerleader performance, Miami Dolphins/Gators alumni players question & answer, live entertainment and more.

Photo Credit: MCT

FAU psyched for showdown with Florida

College football returns exactly seven days from now for the Florida Gators. Adjusting to an entirely new coaching staff including different schemes on both offense and defense, Florida has been concentrating on getting the playbook down all summer and just began scheming for their first opponent, the Florida Atlantic Owls late last week.

Four hours south in Boca Raton, FL, Florida Atlantic has taken the opposite approach. The Owls are once again under the stewardship of head coach Howard Schnellenberger. Though he will retire at the end of the season, Schnellenberger has had Florida Atlantic preparing for their big-name opponent for months.

“I watched film all summer,” safety Demetrius Williamson told the Sun-Sentinel. “I don’t know everything they do, but I am getting an idea of what they do and how they are going to attack us.”

He added that the team learned head coach Urban Meyer’s Gators teams “would formation you to death,” but new head coach Will Muschamp has a different strategy. “I feel like they are going to get it to their playmakers and let them play ball,” he added.

Defensive tackle Jarvis Givens indicated to the paper that FAU is playing up the underdog aspect of the contest with the team feeling that it can compete head-to-head with Florida.

“It is just like the difference between a Cadillac Escalade and an Avalanche,” he said. “It is just a name. You pay an extra 20 to 30 grand for a name, but it is all built on the same platform of hard work.”

The Gators defeated the Owls 59-20 in 2007 and held them scoreless in the first, third and fourth quarters. Florida Atlantic was successful moving the ball, totaling 384 yards of offense, and held onto the it longer than Florida (31:40-28:20) in the contest.

The two teams will square off at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium in Gainesville, FL on Sat., Sept. 3 at 7:00 p.m. The game will air live on ESPNU.

FOUR BITS: Tebow on NBC, Murphy, Crowder

1 » Though plenty are questioning Denver Broncos quarterback Tim Tebow’s ability to succeed in the NFL, there is little doubt about his ability to motivate. According to Entertainment Weekly, Tebow (along with New Orleans QB Drew Brees and Hall of Fame running back Eric Dickerson) will make an appearance on the Oct. 4 episode of The Biggest Loser on NBC. EW reports, “Some of the athletes will be seen competing against the contestants in a throwing contest, while others help the pound shedders with their ‘Last Chance Workout’ before that week’s weigh-in.”

2 » Florida Gators senior right-side/setter Kelly Murphy was named by ESPNW on Wednesday as one of the “five things to watch in college volleyball” this year. “[She] looks to dominate again after three straight All-American seasons and a 2010 selection as SEC Player of the Year,” says writer Mick Elliott. “She was the league’s only player last season to rank in the top 10 in kills per set, service aces per set and hitting percentage. Ranked as the nation’s top 2007 prep recruit coming out of Joliet (Ill.) Catholic Academy, Murphy became just the second Florida player to lead the SEC in aces per set during a single season. Ranked fourth in the SEC and 26th nationally with a .374 hitting efficiency, she also tallied seven triple-doubles last season, including three that came in three-set matches.” Murphy on Thursday was one of 30 student-athletes named as a candidate for the 2011 Lowe’s Senior CLASS Award, an honor given to college players in each sport who demonstrate excellence in the community and classroom as well as with their character and in competition.

3 » Southeastern Conference coaches on Thursday selected the Florida women’s cross country team as the preseason favorites to win their third-straight league title. Earning six first-place votes, the Gators could take home the team’s sixth-ever SEC Championship if the coaches are correct. The men’s team was chosen as a preseason third-place finisher and did not receive a single first-place vote.

4 » He may be semi-retired, but former Florida and Miami Dolphins linebacker Channing Crowder is still in demand, according to Pro Football Talk. “Per a source with knowledge of the situation, at least two teams recently expressed a desire to lure Crowder out of retirement,” Mike Florio writes. Crowder has given no indications that he plans to return to the field this year (his new wife is having a baby during the season and he wants to remain in South Florida with his family).

Meyer talks Gators, coaching on ESPN call

Former Florida Gators head coach now ESPN analyst and color commentator Urban Meyer participated in a teleconference with the network on Thursday and spoke at length about his former team as well as his mindset not being on the sidelines this year. He also touched on some subjects (such as using a two-quarterback system in 2006 and John Brantley’s struggles in 2010) that pertained to his time with the Gators. Below are some excerpts of the conference call that are informative and relate specifically to Florida.

Q. – Urban, I had a question for you about the way you used Leak and Tebow in 2006 I was curious how that process evolved, how maybe easy or difficult it was to commit to it, and how did the team respond to it when they first saw the design?

URBAN MEYER: It was not something we went into the season planning because we really didn’t know what we had with Tim. You don’t know until you get into the game atmosphere, and his value we learned rather quickly. So it evolved throughout the course of the year.

It was a very fragile situation and very unique where if you don’t have character guys that are playing that position, you can see where it could become a locker room issue or become a chemistry issue. The parents were fantastic. You’re talking about a quarterback at Florida, which is a very high profile position, on a team that had a chance to be really good. So it was incredible to work with two guys that are built like Chris Leak and Tim Tebow. There was absolutely no ego, there was no anything other than what’s good for the team, and their families were on board, and the team really bought into it, as well, too.

Like Chris made a comment, which is if we didn’t win then it probably would have been chaos, but winning cures all evils, and we won a lot of games and we had one stumble and that was against Auburn. But to see that team rally back from that, and really both quarterbacks were a major, major part of that.

Read the rest of what Urban Meyer had to say on Thursday…after the jump!
Continue Reading » Meyer talks Gators, coaching on ESPN call

8/25: Easley discusses himself, Elam, Halapio; Demps not worried about Brantley

With the Florida Gators in the middle of preseason practice preparing for their first game on Sept. 3 at home against Florida Atlantic, a number of prominent players were made available to the media on Thursday to discuss how the team is progressing.

EASLEY ALL GROWS UP

His first season at Florida was a rough one for sophomore defensive tackle Dominique Easley. Inactive for some games (including not traveling with the team for a few away contests) and said to have somewhat of an attitude problem, he did not get on the field much and was a candidate to transfer. His teammates and coaches calmed him down a bit toward the end of the year, and Easley eventually got over his woes and decided to remain with the Gators. On Thursday, he opened up a bit about that time in his life and explained how he has moved forward.

“[It was a] freshman thing. Every freshman goes through it,” he said. “[I was] home sick basically. Basically just home sick.” Easley explained a bit of what head coach Will Muschamp said to him upon taking over the team. “He just told me that I have a fresh start. My plan was to do a fresh start, too, start from the beginning and start the right way. Maturity – I matured a lot and [started] making better choices. […] I had to get used to it. I had to break myself in.”

Redshirt junior DT Omar Hunter recalled Easley’s struggles and agreed that he is a changed man this year. “Wow. Ten steps forward. Big. He’s definitely more mature,” he said. “[Easley] has the right mind going into the season; he knows we’re counting on him to play a lot. He’s definitely stepping it up. He is just going out and working hard. He’s not talking as much. And when he does talk, he’s not complaining about anything. He’s just having fun and going out and playing. […] Dominique, he’s a good guy. You can get along with him easy. He comes out, talks to everyone, he’s a good teammate.”

Hunter also talked about some of the people who helped Easley right the ship. “I know a few guys – one of our strength coaches, Coach Mark Campbell – that’s like his mentor. They talk all the time. He put his arm around him and talked to him a lot. Me too. I love Ease, like I said, him and Sharrif [Floyd] come in last year, I know the pressure that was on them to play. I felt that same pressure my freshman and I know what they were going through so I talked to them a little bit too.”

“BAD” SCRIMMAGE NOT SO TERRIBLE

Though no one would come out and say that he was exaggerating per se, both Easley and Howard said they did not believe the team’s scrimmage on Wednesday was as bad as Muschamp made it out to be in his evening media availability.

“From my perspective, everything went good. We came out obviously some things went bad, every team certain things go bad, but from the way I look at it, everything went good,” Easley said. Hunter added, “It was OK. I think both sides of the ball could have did a little bit better, but I think for the most part it was OK. We still got to come together as a team a little bit more and be a little bit mentally sharp on our plays, but it was OK.”

Easley said that the team has “actually…gotten way better since the first two scrimmages” even though he knows the team is “not perfect yet but we will be there soon.” Hunter thinks the team needs to focus on “sharpening up mentally, getting all our plays down, [and] being able to make the right adjustments we need to make in crunch time situations.”

Overall though, Easley believes Muschamp was less angry and more disappointed in the outing. “He seemed a little bit upset because some plays went wrong, some people didn’t know what they were supposed to be doing, but that happens everywhere,” he said. “He just wants us to know that we’re not who we’re supposed to be yet and we’re going to be there soon, we just got to keep going at it.”

BRANTLEY SHOULD BE FINE, DEMPS SAYS

With redshirt senior quarterback John Brantley on the mend with a sore back, senior running back Jeff Demps noted on Thursday that he is confident he will be ready to face Florida Atlantic in the first game of the season. “I don’t think it’s that serious,” he said. The back-ups are ready, but I doubt that John is going to miss that game.”

He also explained that, while Brantley did have his reps limited during the scrimmage and has missed a few practices, he is using that time wisely.

“He’s been practicing. Last night he was limited, but throughout camp he’s been going full-go, he said. “Yeah, uh-huh, his back has been kind of bothering him. I’m not concerned. With him and his back issue, I think they’re giving him a chance to get back in the playbook and pick up the offense even better.”

HIGH PRAISE FOR ELAM

Given his first real opportunity to speak to the media since stepping on campus, Easley was also very vocal when it came to what sophomore safety Matt Elam brings to the team day-in and day-out. “My opinion – this is my opinion – I think he’s the best thing out there. He works hard at everything he does,” he said. “Basically he’s relentless every play; he doesn’t take off not one snap. [He’s the best] I see out there. Period. His whole plan is to beat that snap every play. He’s just a smart player. He can read the field, like he’s our quarterback of the defense.”

OFFENSIVE LINE STEPPING UP

Considered one of the potentially weakest units on the team going into the offseason due to its youth and relative lack of depth, the Gators offensive line has been a highlight for the ream recently according to Muschamp and the players.

Demps said Thursday that the chemistry amount the unit is apparent. “They’re playing together now. All over the summer they were having events – just the line hanging out and getting closer together,” he explained. “You can tell it now because, like I said, they’re playing like a unit.”

Offering up a similar story about the line was Easley, who specifically tries to go against redshirt sophomore right guard Jon Halapio in practice each day. “That’s like a family there. The offensive line, I’d say that’s like the strongest group of our team right now,” he explained. “Everything is all together. Everybody knows what page each other’s on. No matter where we’re at, if we’re off or on the field… Nobody knows this but every Thursday or Wednesday they have dinner together, and they’ve been doing that since I’d say the end of spring.”

Easley added that Halapio is “the strongest guy” he faces but that neither of the two men usually get the best of each other over the course of a day’s activities. “We’re working each other. He’s working me, I’m working him, so we’re just getting each other better,” Esaley said. “He wins, I win, he wins, I win, I love going against him. We just try to get each other better.”

And how did he respond to Halapio’s comments from Wednesday stating that Easley never seems to get tired on the field and has become a relentless player? “I just have fun,” he responded. “You’ll always see me dancing. I just try to keep dancing and just have fun, not think about the tiredness.”

HUNTER’s GOT JOKES

Asked if he was concerned about Brantley having his reps limited in practice due to a sore back, Hunter quipped that he “didn’t even know he was not healthy,” saying that when he rushed the passer he didn’t look at the jersey and just assumed it was him.

Hunter also talked about being excited for the season to begin. “I’m so ready to hit someobody other than my teammates,” he said. “I’m just really feeling the itch to hit somebody. I might hit Demps today.”

Asked if redshirt senior running back Chris Rainey did a good job blocking a pass rusher recently, he said that the player is getting better” and though he “didn’t like to do it before, I think he enjoys it now.” As to whether or not Demps recently took out a defensive end in a recent practice? “I do believe that. He’s a little sneaky.”

NOTES AND QUOTES

» Easley on if the defense is dominating the offense in the trenches: “Everybody’s doing good, but we emphasize that it starts with up front first, so we’re trying to make that statement.”

» Easley on how he has improved the most: “[I’m] more about the game. More about reading people, reading the offensive lineman, just becoming a wiser defensive lineman.”

» Easley on playing nose tackle vs. three-technique: “I’ve played the nose since I got here last year, but I just started playing the three-technique this summer. I’m playing both equally.”

» Easley on Halapio saying he’s not a good dancer: “I try.”

» Easley on how much the team can improve with another week of practice: “Seven days better.”

» Easley on how the defensive line has improved from a year ago: “Extremely good. Technique-wise, we’re way much wiser. As far as reading the offensive lineman, we’re better coached at that.”

» Hunter on being a leader as an older guy: “It’s kind of weird, but I enjoy it. I kind of look at myself as a leader in that aspect. I’ve been through a lot more things than these younger guys have went through. Grabbing younger guys and kind of pulling them in the right way, I like that.”

» Hunter on his passion for football now vs. last year: “I love football now. I wouldn’t say it was a struggle. I enjoyed my teammates last year and I enjoyed it last year, but this year a new energy and a new life with the coaches being here, and I enjoy it.”

» Hunter on taking a leadership role: “I feel like I’m one of the older guys. Myself, Willie Green and Jaye Howard, we are the three older guys on the defensive line, so when things are going wrong, people are looking to us to lead them. I do take that challenge on.”

» Hunter on getting to this point in his career with a new staff: “It’s fun. It’s something new. Something that re-motivated me to practice hard and play harder. This new fresh start over, it just made me focus more and [made] me more hungry.”

» Demps on his health: “Everything is good. I’ve been taking care of my body pretty good, so I’m feeling pretty healthy. I’ve been going through all the practices.”

» Demps on picking up the offense: “Some days it was easier than some other days, but it’s tough for me to miss the whole spring and then try to come back and learn it all in a couple weeks. My position coach, Coach [Charlie] Weis and the assistants have been helping me out.”

» Demps on his ability to pass protect: “It’s getting better. I still have some stuff to learn, but I think it’s getting better day by day.”

» Demps on junior RB Mike Gillislee and redshirt freshman RB Mack Brown: “They look pretty good. They’ve been running with the twos, but they still look pretty good to me. They’re running hard and just going through everything. [They’re working on] probably being more mentally focused, learning their plays also.”

» Demps on playing with Rainey at the same time: “It feels good. It takes some pressure off of me and him. Instead of worrying about one they got to worry about two now.”

The Silver Lining: Media shares the blame but tornado of Tim Tebow began in-house

Take every story written about every backup quarterback in the history of the NFL, combine them, and you probably would not reach the level of attention Denver Broncos second-year reserve Tim Tebow has received this offseason.

While a lot of the diatribes and “insider” stories about him are driven by one thing in particular – page views – it is important to realize that the media cannot be solely held responsible for this barnstorm of criticism and relative subjectivity about one of the most polarizing players in the league. His team has to take some blame, too.

Read the rest of this column…after the break!
Continue Reading » The Silver Lining: Media shares the blame but tornado of Tim Tebow began in-house

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