FOUR BITS: Beal, Mitts, Howard, U.S. Open

1 » Preparing for the 2012 NBA Draft, Florida Gators freshman guard Bradley Beal is up in Chicago, IL training with former college coach Josh Oppenheimer, the same trainer that Houston Rockets forward Chandler Parsons used one year ago. Beal, who like Parsons also signed with agent Mark Bartelstein of Prioirty Sports, told SLAMonline that he is working on his game in hopes of impressing scouts and being selected as high as possible. “I’m looking to really focus on creating my own shot offensively,” he said. “Just beating guys off of the dribble then finishing with a floater or pull-up in the lane. [I] just have to continue having high IQ for the game, focus in on ball handling and work on creating more space off the dribble.” Ironically enough, Parsons will be in New York, NY on Wednesday representing Houston on stage at the 2012 NBA Draft Lottery. The Rockets only have a 1.81 percent change of receiving a top-three pick (lowest amongst the 13 teams) so it is quite likely that Beal winds up elsewhere.

2 » Former Gators soccer star and current U.S. Women’s National Team defender Heather Mitts (34) told NBC on Sunday that the 2012 London Olympics this summer (her third appearance on the Olympic team) will be the end of the road for her as a soccer player. “Feeling the way I feel, it’s kind of weird to say that, but it’s always been my plan to hopefully play in one last Olympics and step away from the game kind of on my own terms,” she said. “I do love the game, and I am going to miss it, but I also have other things that I want to do. I just feel like I want to go out at the right time.” Mitts seems to excel Olympic years with her best performances coming in 2004 and 2008. Though she started all eight of the United States’ Olympic matches in 2008, she did not play in the 2011 Women’s World Cup and may not step on the pitch this time around either. “Ideally I want for our team to go over there and win gold,” Mitts said. “It would be great to play, but if I don’t play, I’ve been through that once before to be there and be supportive.” Despite her decision to hang up her cleats, Mitts says she is “probably the fittest I’ve ever been,” is completely healthy and still loves playing. “I feel so sharp and strong,” she added. Mitts has made 123 career appearances in the red, white and blue. Check out NBC‘s video interview with Mitts from this week.

3 » In an interview with his new team’s website, Seattle Seahawks rookie defensive tackle Jaye Howard expressed his excitement about finally being in the NFL and playing alongside some guys he grew up watching. “It’s been an unreal experience,” he said. “Walking into the same locker room and seeing Marshawn Lynch – a player that I look up to – and now I’m actually in the same locker room. It’s a great feeling. So I’m just embracing this moment right now.” There were also positive comments directed at Howard from head coach Pete Carroll and defensive line coach Todd Wash. “Jaye Howard showed up. He did some good things. He showed up on pass rush a couple of times. I know Todd mentioned that he was surprised at his quickness. That’s a really good sign,” Carroll said. Wash added, “Jaye is an explosive player. He’s learning that this level is a little bit different once our veterans got here. But we’re very excited about his progress. He’s eager to learn. He wants to know exactly what he can do better. He does a great job in the classroom, too. So we’re really pleased with what we’ve got so far.”

4 » According to The Florida Times-Union, seven former and current Florida golfers “will play in a 36-hole U.S. Open sectional qualifier Monday at Black Diamond Ranch Quarry Course in Lecanto.” Among those players competing will be junior T.J. Vogel, freshman J.D. Tomlinson, redshirt senior Zach Lee and former players Tyson Alexander, Andres Echavarria, Brett Stegmaier and Bank Vongvanij. With the Gators competing for the 2012 NCAA Championship this week, Vogel, Tomlinson and Lee could have a tight window to get into town for the qualifier depending how well Florida does at the event.

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Mike Zunino named 2011 SEC Player of the Year; seven teammates awarded All-SEC honors

The team’s leader in hits, runs, home runs, RBI, total bases and slugging percentage, Florida Gators sophomore catcher Mike Zunino was named the 2011 Southeastern Conference Player of the Year by the league’s coaches on Tuesday.

He is the second University of Florida baseball player to ever win the award. Former Gators first baseman Matt LaPorta captured the honor in 2005 and 2007.

A terror at the plate for Florida all season, Zunino leads the conference in home runs (15), RBI (59), runs scored (62) and total bases (141); he is second in the SEC in batting average (.383, -.002) and slugging percentage (.701, -.008). Zunino is also tied for third in doubles (19), places fifth in on-base percentage (.455) and is tied for sixth in hits (77).

He was named to the 2011 All-SEC First Team alongside teammates junior outfielder Preston Tucker and sophomore designated hitter Brian Johnson. Also on the team are Vanderbilt’s Aaron Westlake, Tony Kemp and Grayson Garvin; South Carolina’s Scott Wingo, Michael Roth and Matt Price; Kentucky’s Casey McElroy; LSU’s Mikie Mahtook; and Auburn’s Casey McElroy.

His Gators teammates – senior second baseman Josh Adams, sophomore shortstop Nolan Fontana and sophomore right-handed pitcher Hudson Randall – were placed on the All-SEC Second Team. RHP Karsten Whitson and third baseman Zack Powers were honored on the 2011 SEC All-Freshman Team, and both Zunino and Fontana earned spots on the 2011 SEC All-Defensive Team.

It is the first time in UF history that student-athletes representing the school have won SEC Player of the Year in baseball and softball (senior left fielder Kelsey Bruder). Florida now has 11 SEC Players of the Year for 2010-11 also including Chandler Parsons (men’s basketball), Bank Vongvanij (men’s golf), Christian Taylor (men’s indoor track & field), Will Claye (men’s outdoor track & field), Conor Dwyer (men’s swimming), Monica Dodson (women’s diving), Kathryn Williamson (women’s soccer), Allie Will (women’s tennis) and Kelly Murphy (volleyball). Gators lacrosse’s Kitty Cullen also won ALC Player of the Year.

Photo Credits: The News-Press, John Korduner/Icon SMI

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Florida golf: men advance with NCAA regional win; women tie for 10th in NCAA Championship

By Nicole Boyett – OGGOA Special Contributor

No. 3 Florida Gators men’s golf earned a six-stroke victory in the 2011 NCAA Southeast Regional at Golden Ocala by finishing 18-under par. Florida’s win sends them to the 2011 NCAA Championship in Stillwater, OK beginning May 31.

Senior Andres Echavarria led the Gators with three rounds under par, finishing 9-under and in fourth place to complete his fourth top-five performance the season.

Florida had to overcome a four-shot deficit Saturday after a 13-under performance from Augusta State on Friday earned them the overall lead. The Gators covered more than four shots, posting an 11-under total Saturday while Augusta State fell flat to finish 1-under for the day. Senior Bank Vongvanij tied for sixth place at 7-under with sophomore Phillip Choi not far behind (-4, T-12). Sophomore Tommy Mou completed Florida’s lineup at +2.

The top five finishers in each of the six regionals advance to the championship. Moving on from the Southeast Regional were Florida (-18), Augusta State (-12), Kennesaw State (-11), North Carolina State (-9) and Arkansas (-8). Four other Southeastern Conference teams have also advanced: Alabama, LSU, Georgia and Tennessee.

The No. 24 women’s golf team finished 44-over par and tied for 10th with Vanderbilt at the 2011 NCAA Championship at Traditions Club in Bryan, TX. After a rain delay and eventual postponement due to darkness on Friday, golfers had to finish their third round before beginning the fourth and final round Saturday.

Junior Andrea Watts was the top-performing Gator, finishing tied for 15th at +5. After two rounds, sophomore Mia Piccio was 2-under par. By carding two 4-over rounds, Piccio finished T-19 at 6-over. Junior Evan Jensen totaled 13-over, and sophomore Isabelle Lendl struggled with her swing changes and finished a rough 29-over. Senior Jessica Yadloczky completed her final tournament in the orange and blue at +28.

UCLA (+21) wound up capturing the NCAA Championship in women’s golf. Defending champion Purdue (+25) finished in second place followed by LSU (+29), Virginia (+34) and top-ranked Southern California (+38).

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SIX BITS: Haslem, volleyball, WNIT, golf, swimming

1 » Injured Saturday while facing the Memphis Grizzlies, Miami Heat power forward Udonis Haslem has been diagnosed with a torn ligament in his left foot and is expected to be out until at least the NBA All-Star break in February – if not longer. Haslem’s injury – should it require surgery – could keep him out the entire regular season though he would likely be able to return for the playoffs.

2 » No. 1/1 Florida Gators volleyball (26-1, 19-0 SEC) continued its roll through the Southeastern Conference on Sunday with a 3-1 (25-19, 33-31, 25-27, 25-13) victory over the No. 16 LSU Tigers (24-4, 15-4 SEC) at the Pete Maravich Assembly Center in Baton Rouge, LA. Senior outside hitter Callie Rivers accounted for a career-high 21 kills, and junior outside hitter Kristy Jaeckel registered 15 kills. Junior right-side/setter Kelly Murphy’s dominance continued with her 14th straight double-double; she notched a season-high 31 assists along with 13 kills and eight digs. Florida ends regular season action on Friday on the road at South Carolina before beginning the 2010 SEC Tournament as the likely No. 1 overall seed.

Four more BITS on women’s basketball’s near upset victory, an achievement for men’s golf and updates on swimming and diving…after the break!
Continue Reading » SIX BITS: Haslem, volleyball, WNIT, golf, swimming

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FOUR BITS: volleyball, soccer, cross, golf, tennis

1 » Continuing their stellar play to open the season, No. 3 Florida Gators volleyball (8-1, 2-0 SEC) followed the football team in defeating the No. 18 Tennessee Volunteers (9-2, 1-1 SEC) 3-1 (28-26, 25-23, 19-25, 25-17) on the heels of another triple-double from junior right-side/setter Kelly Murphy. The performance was Murphy’s 18th career triple-double (19 kills, 25 assists, 14 digs), which helped the Gators defeat their sixth Top 25 opponent this season. Florida is next set to dig their heels into No. 15 Florida State on the road Wed. at 7 p.m.

2 » The volleyball team may have been victorious, but No. 5 Gators soccer (6-1-1) was dealt its first loss of the young season on Sunday. Facing the No. 1 North Carolina Tar Heels (8-0-1) on the road at the Duke Nike Classic, Florida fell 2-0 to the two-time defending NCAA National Champions. North Carolina’s Alyssa Rich (61’) and Elizabeth Burchenal (75’) each scored in the second half as the Tar Heels got 10 total shots on goal throughout the contest. UF will remain on the road but hopes to get back on track against Kentucky on Fri. at 7 p.m.

3 » Florida’s cross country teams begin each season by participating in the same event and, for the sixth straight year, the Gators took home the 2010 Mountain Dew Invitational on the heels of great performances by juniors Josh Izewski and Genevieve LaCaze. Izewski’s career-low 24:39:52 in the men’s 8K provided him with the overall individual title for the event, which was hosted at the Mark Bostick Golf Course in Gainesville, FL.

4 » Fifteen men’s golf teams took part in the Olympia Fields Invitational in Chicago, IL, over the weekend, but Florida finished top after recording a three-round total of 845 to defeat Oklahoma State and Augusta State (852) for the event tile. Senior Bank Vongvanij came in second-place individually with a three-round score of 207.

EXTRA BIT » Also in action over the weekend was Gators men’s tennis, which took home a 24-2 overall record (9-0 in doubles matches) at the 2010 Gator Invitational in Gainesville, FL. No. 9 senior Alexandre Lacroix won the event’s singles championship, going 3-0 over the weekend, and also combined for the doubles title with teammate junior Nassim Slilam. The duo is ranked No. 20 in the country.

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