FOUR BITS: Texas A&M, Haden, Schutte, Paco

1 » With the Florida Gators’ game against the Texas A&M Aggies under 48 hours away, now is as good of a time as ever to check on ESPN College GameDay’s promotional video for the contest set for Saturday at 3:30 p.m.

2 » Cleveland Browns president Mike Holmgren announced on Tuesday that cornerback Joe Haden has indeed been suspended by the NFL for failing the league’s banned substance policy (testing positive for Adderall); however, he is set to play in the team’s season opener on Sunday and every game from that point forward until his already-filed appeal is ruled on by the league. Haden’s suspension, should it be enacted after the NFL reviews his appeal, will be for four games. He would at that time become the second former Gators player in the last three years to receive a suspension for violating that policy as New England Patriots linebacker Brandon Spikes missed the last four games of his rookie season in 2010 after testing positive for an ingredient that was contained in his ADHD medication.

3 » Florida catcher Brittany Schutte, who missed most of the 2012 season after suffering a broken jaw early in the campaign, has decided to skip her final season with the team in order to move on and coach softball at the Oak Hall School in Gainesville, FL. According to Oak Hill, Schutte recently informed Gators head coach Tim Walton that she will not return to the team and “is shifting interest in her academic career with hopes of becoming an educator.” Her departure is a major loss for a Florida team that saw a huge star graduate and suffered three other major defections last season. The Gators lost senior centerfielder Michelle Moultrie and saw sophomore shortstop Cheyenne Coyle as well as sisters Kasey Fagan and Sami Fagan leave the program after Walton suspended all three during the opening portion of the 2012 NCAA Tournament. In her first two years with the team, Schutte hit .335 with 41 home runs, 128 RBIs, 118 runs, 83 walks and 82 stolen bases. She also slugged .751 and fielded her position at a .989 clip. Schutte’s departure, coupled with Moultrie’s graduation and the three transfers, leaves the Gators without five of their best players heading into the 2013 season.

4 » Former Florida left-handed pitcher Steven Rodriguez, selected by the Los Angeles Dodgers with the No. 82 overall pick in the second round of the 2012 MLB Draft, became the first player from that draft to be called up to the majors when Los Angeles brought him into the fold on Wednesday. Rodriguez, who was always thought to be a player who might be in this situation, was dominant in the minors, posting a 0.92 ERA with 32 strikeouts and six walks in 19 2/3 innings over 21 games. “Everybody here’s been great to me,” he told MLB.com this week. “Now I’ve got to perform. I’ve got to get over it. But on the mound, looking up at all the decks, the biggest place I’ve ever played before was Omaha and they only have two decks.”

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Florida softball falls 2-1 to FGCU in Gainesville Regional; three players suspended, one returns

Friday was a rough day for No. 5 Florida Gators softball, which not only lost 2-1 to the Florida Gulf Coast Eagles in the second game of the 2012 NCAA Gainesville Regional at Pressly Softball Stadium but did so without three of their star players.

Prior to the game, head coach Tim Walton announced that junior shortstop Cheyenne Coyle, sophomore outfielder Kasey Fagan and freshman third baseman Sami Fagan were suspended for undisclosed reasons. He said following the contest that the situation is being handled internally but that the trio is suspended indefinitely for the remainder of the season and could be kicked off the team permanently.

More definitive on the subject was Kevin Fagan, the father of Kasey and Sami, who told the Ocala Star-Banner the three players are no longer with the team and are “free to go anywhere they want.” He added that “an altercation on the team…[left] the team sort of divided and Walton felt like it was in his best interest to get rid of those three.”

It was not all bad news for Florida before the game, however, as the Gators also learned junior catcher Brittany Schutte would return after missing more than two months of action with a broken jaw. Schutte went 0/2 with a walk.

FGCU (38-22) got on the board first as Florida (46-12) sophomore right-handed pitcher Hannah Rogers gave up a solo home run in the top of the second. The Gators tied things up in the bottom of the next inning, rallying to score a run brought home by a single from freshman first baseman Lauren Haeger (2/3, RBI).

The Gators and Eagles stayed tied at 1-1 for the next two innings, but Florida Gulf Coast went back on top in the sixth as Rogers (27-7, 7.0 IP, 5 H, 2 ER, 2 BB, 8 K) coughed up her second solo homer of the game. Florida was unable to answer and lost the game, which dropped them into the loser’s bracket of their own regional.

UF has lost seven of their last 11 games and now must win four-straight contests to advance to the Super Regional portion of the 2012 NCAA Tournament. Florida will face Central Florida at 3:30 p.m. in an elimination game for the opportunity to advance to a second elimination game immediately following the contest at 6 p.m.

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SIX BITS: coaches, Beal, NBA, Andrews, Schutte

1 » The Florida Gators recently let their own senior writer, GatorZone’s Scott Carter, in the football meeting rooms for two days as coaches watched film and prepared for spring practice. Three notes in particular stood out in the piece. (1) Former NFL safety Lance Schulters dropped by the facility. (2) Head coach Will Muschamp “fiery” when learning that some of his players’ lean-body mass and fast mass figures were not up to par. (3) Former Boise State backup quarterback Bush Hamdan is a football intern with the team. Doing a bit of research, former Florida graduate assistant Ryan Solesky (2006-09) has also returned to intern with the team.

2 » Gators freshman guard Bradley Beal has the NBA in his future but whether or not he decides to go pro after this season is a decision he has yet to make. “I have no clue,” he said. “I haven’t even really thought about it. Right now, I don’t know. I haven’t put too much thought into it. When that time comes I’m going to talk to Coach [Billy] Donovan and my family and we’re going to have to sit down and talk about it. When that time comes, it comes.” Beal also said he will be happy no matter what he decides. “If I leave, I still played a great year of college. I enjoyed it,” he said. “If I stay, it’s only going to make me get better. Either way it goes, I’m gaining something positive out of it.”

3 » Two former Florida players had top-notch performances in the NBA on Tuesday. Memphis Grizzlies center Marreese Speights scored a season- and team-high 25 points on 12-of-20 shooting with seven rebounds, five assists, a steal and a block in a 116-111 double-overtime loss to the Los Angeles Lakers. Just under 500 miles away, forward Chandler Parsons scored a team-high 21 points on 9-of-16 shooting with seven boards, six dimes and a steal to lead his Houston Rockets over Oklahoma City. Parsons also registered another impressive dunk, this time over Serge Ibaka.

4 » Could Erin Andrews’s time at ESPN be drawing to a close? The network confirmed to SportsBusiness Journal this week that the ACC Tournament was “the last scheduled assignment for Erin Andrews” as her “contract [is] coming up.” However, the Worldwide Leader also said that they “hope to renew her.” Andrews signed a two-year deal with ESPN in 2010, one that saw her duties increase. In addition to doing sideline reporting and working on stories for College GameDay, Andrews was given hosting duties for the first hour of the program on ESPNU and a role on Good Morning America on ABC. She was even on the red carpet interviewing celebrities prior to this year’s Oscars. Andrews had a number of intriguing offers for her services in 2010 and is expected to have as many – if not more – as she is set to become a free agent again this year.

5 » No. 4 Gators softball’s title chances have taken a hit as it appears that junior catcher Brittany Schutte, the team’s batting average leader (.477) who also has three homers and 23 RBIs in the young season, broke her jaw on March 2 and is out of action indefinitely. “If we get her back at all this season, it won’t be for a long time,” head coach Tim Walton told The Gainesville Sun’s Pat Dooley. Schutte has already missed eight games and “had surgery on March 5 to insert a plate in her jaw and wire it shut.” With Florida losing so many power hitters to graduation last season, Schutte’s bit bat fit in nicely in the middle of the lineup. The Gators will be unable to replace her hitting but have classmate Kelsey Horton filling in for her behind the plate.

6 » Florida women’s basketball earned an at-large berth to the 2012 NCAA Tournament on Monday, learning that they will be participating in the event for the 13th time in school history and first since 2009. The Gators will take on the Ohio State Buckeyes in first-round action on Sunday with the winner likely facing the undefeated and top-ranked Baylor in second-round action. Below is a video courtesy of GatorVision.tv of the team celebrating their berth.

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Florida softball passes road test in Palm Springs

Participating in the 2012 Cathedral City Classic at the Big League Dreams Sports Complex in Palm Springs, CA over the long weekend, No. 1 Florida Gators softball (13-1) won four of the five games they played and went 2-1 against top 25-ranked opponents. Though Florida may get knocked down from their top ranking when the new polls are released Tuesday, the Gators still found plenty of success over the weekend.

Florida started the event with back-to-back games against top competition on Thursday afternoon. UF defeated the No. 16 Texas A&M Aggies in a 1 p.m. start before falling to the No. 5 Washington Huskies at 3:30 p.m.

The Gators scored six runs on five hits in the early contest, using sharp hitting from junior catcher Brittany Schutte (1-2, 2 RBI, R, SB) and senior center fielder Michelle Moultrie (1-2, HR, RBI, 2 R, BB) to help propel them to a 6-5 victory. Sophomore right-handed pitcher Hannah Rogers pitched a complete game, striking out seven while giving up four earned runs (three in the top of the seventh) on nine hits with two walks.

Freshman RHP Lauren Haeger suffered her first loss of the season in the latter contest, allowing five runs (three earned) on three hits with two walks and five strikeouts in 5.0 innings. Washington led 1-0 through 2.5 innings, but Florida took a 2-1 lead in the bottom of the third after a triple from freshman second baseman Katie Medina (2-3, RBI, R) and a single by freshman third baseman Sami Fagan (2-4, RBI) sent two runs in. UF would not score again, leaving six on base over the course of the contest), as UW scored pairs of runs in the top of the fifth and six to pull away with a 5-2 win.

Gators head coach Tim Walton gave Haeger an immediate opportunity for redemption, throwing her in the team’s 1 p.m. game against the Brigham Young Cougars on Friday. Florida took down BYU 3-0 thanks partially to Haeger (4-1), who struck out five while scattering five hits and two walks in six innings. Fellow freshman RHP Alyssa Bache came on for the final inning, striking out two to earn her first save of the season. UF scored all three of their runs on two dingers including a solo shot by junior designated hitter Ensley Gammel (1-3, RBI, R) and a two-run bomb by sophomore shortstop Cheyenne Coyle (1-2, 2 RBI, R, BB, SB) one inning later.

Gammel and Coyle found their power strokes again in the Gators’ second match-up on Friday, a 5-1 victory over the No. 8 Texas Longhorns. Florida got to the plate in the top of the first, but Texas matched the score with a run of their own in the bottom of the second. Gammel (1-3, RBI, R) and Coyle (1-3 RBI, R) then each connected on home runs in the top of the fourth, vaulting UF ahead of UT permanently. Haeger (1-2, 2 RBI) and Schutte (0-2, RBI, BB, SB) were responsible for the other runs in the game, while Rogers only gave up four hits while striking out eight in a complete game outing that did not include an earned run.

Rogers (8-0) earned her third win in as many days on Saturday by striking out five and scattering five hits with only one walk in a complete game outing as the Gators took down the Boise State Broncos 3-0 to close out their road trip. Schutte (1-3, 2 RBI) hit a two-RBI single in the top of the first to give Florida an early advantage, and junior right fielder Kelsey Horton (1-3, RBI, R) smacked a solo homer in the fifth to extend UF’s lead.

It should come as no surprise that some of the team’s best performers over the weekend – Schutte, Coyle, Gammel and Medina – all hail from the state of California.

The Gators returned to Gainesville, FL on Saturday and will remain in town by hosting an event next weekend. Florida will take on Eastern Michigan on Thursday before competing in the Lipton Invitational from March 2-4. UF will take on EMU again on Friday as part of the event along with Gardner-Webb (twice), Tennessee State and Campbell. The Gators are set to open Southeastern Conference play on March 7.

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FOUR BITS: baseball, softball, tennis, SEC TV

1 » Florida Gators baseball (2-1), despite losing the third game of their season-opening series to the No. 16 Cal State Fullerton Titans (1-2), remained the No. 1 team in the country on Monday when the new polls were announced. After winning their first game of the season 7-3, Florida beat CSF 5-2 Saturday evening before falling 8-5 on Sunday.

Sophomore right-handed pitcher Karsten Whitson (1-0) was erratic through five innings Saturday, allowing two earned runs on five hits with two walks and two strikeouts. Junior reliever Austin Maddox (1) came on in the sixth and earned the save by striking out three batters in four one-hit innings. Freshman designated hitter Taylor Gushue (1-3) – named SEC Freshman of the Week on Monday – led the way with two RBIs (on a bases-clearing triple) and a walk, while senior first baseman Preston Tucker and junior catcher Mike Zunino had two hits and a RBI apiece.

The Gators took an early 3-0 lead Sunday, but junior left-hander Brian Johnson was pulled after striking out five and walking one while giving up two hits in four innings. Sophomore RHP Jonathon Crawford (0-1) replaced him and imploded, giving up four earned runs on five hits while only recording one out. Florida’s bullpen struggled, and UF only added two runs down the stretch. Junior shortstop Nolan Fontana (1-4) and senior left fielder Daniel Pigott (1-5) each had two RBIs in the game, while Tucker (in at right field) was the most efficient from the plate, going 3-4 with a RBI and walk.

2 » No. 1 Gators softball (9-0) continued their dominant start to the 2012 season with two more wins over the weekend following their 8-0 victory in the series opener against the Michigan State Spartans (1-7). Florida freshman RHP Alyssa Bache (1-0), in her first appearance of the season, came close to a perfect game in her start, striking out four in a complete game and tossing a no-hitter through four of her five innings. The Gators run-ruled the Spartans 11-1 with freshman 1B/DH Lauren Haeger (2-3, HR, 3 RBI, 2 R) and junior C Brittany Schutte (3-3, HR, 2 RBI, 2 R) leading the way.

Florida was just as dominant on Sunday with a 15-4 win over Michigan State though Haeger (3-0) did give up four earned runs on five hits and four walks with five strikeouts in her complete game victory. Sophomore SS Cheyenne Coyle (1-2) had a homer and four RBIs with a run and a walk and was supported by Schutte (1-1, 4 R, 3 BB) and junior RF/DH Kelsey Horton (1-2, BB), who had two RBIs each. Schutte took home SEC Player of the Week honors on Monday, and Haeger picked up a Freshman of the Week nod.

3 » Even though Florida lost last week to Stanford and fell from No. 1 to No. 2 in the national rankings, the women’s tennis team (5-1) got a bit of good news Saturday night. The Connecticut women’s basketball team fell to St. John’s that evening, ending a 99-game home winning streak dating back to March 6, 2007. It was the longest such streak in NCAA women’s athletics and second-longest nationally among any collegiate sport. UF women’s tennis now owns the longest home winning streak as the Gators have won 98 consecutive matches at Linder Stadium at Ring Tennis Complex in Gainesville, FL. Florida will try to match UConn’s 99-game streak against No. 13 North Carolina on Sunday and can surpass it next Wednesday against Florida State.

4 » According to the Times Free Press of Chattanooga, TN, the annual football game between Florida and Tennessee that has been aired on CBS every year “since the network became the primary broadcaster of SEC games in 1996” may get bumped in 2012 because of a more attractive matchup between Alabama and Arkansas. The Alabama-Arkansas game, which is normally set to occur a week later in the season, was bumped up a week because of all of the shuffling that had to be done to accommodate Texas A&M and Missouri in the SEC’s schedule for next year. The paper reports that Florida-Tennessee “is the only league contest CBS has shown all 16 years, and it has been televised in prime time on five occasions.”

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FOUR BITS: baseball, softball, NBA, Tebow

1 » No. 1 Florida Gators baseball (1-0) played like the top team in the country during their season opener on Friday, fighting back every time they were down and eventually toppling the No. 16 Cal State Fullerton Titans (0-1) 7-3 at McKethan Stadium in Gainesville, FL. Down a run after a throwing error in the top of the second, the Gators tied the game when freshman designated hitter Taylor Gushue (1-4) turned on his first collegiate pitch and belted a homer to left field. Behind 3-2 in the bottom of the sixth, Florida used another solo shot – this time from senior right fielder Preston Tucker (1-3) – to even things up again. The Gators’ clutch hitting continued as a four-run seventh inning – including to pair of RBI singles by juniors catcher Mike Zunino (1-4) and first baseman Brian Johnson (2-4) – to jump ahead 7-3 and hold on for the victory. Junior right-handed pitcher Hudson Randall got the start for UF but gave up three earned runs on five hits with only one strikeout in 5.2 innings for the no decision. Coming on in relief with his team down a run, junior left-hander Steven Rodriguez (1-0) struck out three and gave up just one hit in 2.1 innings before senior RHP Greg Larson tossed the final inning to clinch the victory. Florida’s series with Cal State Fullerton continues Saturday and Sunday though neither game is being televised.

2 » No. 1 Florida softball (7-0) continued its hot start to the 2012 season with yet another run-rule victory as the Gators shut out the Michigan State Spartans (1-5) 8-0 in five innings Friday night at Pressly Softball Stadium in Gainesville. Florida took a 2-0 lead into the bottom of the fourth but crossed the plate five times in the inning to take a 7-0 lead. A RBI single by sophomore left fielder Kasey Fagan (1-2) in the bottom of the fifth wound up being a walk-off hit as it became the game-deciding run. Freshman 1B Lauren Haeger (2-2) led the way for the Gators with four RBIs, and junior C Brittany Schutte supported her with a 3-3 performance and a RBI of her own. Freshman third baseman Sami Fagan (2-3) also plated two runs and crossed home once herself. Continuing to prove her dominance on the mound, sophomore pitcher Hannah Rogers (5-0) tossed a complete game one-hitter with four strikeouts and a walk in 5.0 innings. UF will take on Michigan State twice more before the weekend concludes.

3 » It was a big night in the NBA for four former Gators stars. Friday night’s standout performance came from Denver Nuggets guard/forward Corey Brewer, who scored a team-high 26 points (10-of-14 shooting) with five rebounds, a steal and a block in 32 minutes. Joining him at the top of their team’s respective box scores were Golden State Warriors forward/center David Lee with a team-high 23 points (8-of-17 shooting) and eight boards in a team-high 30 minutes; Houston Rockets F Chandler Parsons with a team-high 18 points (8-of-15 shooting), a team-high six rebounds and three assists in a team-high 40 minutes; and Memphis Grizzlies C Marreese Speights with a double-double of 12 points (5-of-8 shooting) and 10 boards with two blocks in 35 minutes.

Parsons also learned Friday that he will be participating in the NBA’s All-Star Weekend as one of three players representing Houston in the Shooting Stars competition.

4 » Denver Broncos quarterback Tim Tebow has officially scheduled his “experience” event at the new D1 Sports Training and Therapy facility in Citrus Park, FL. Tebow will hold a special training session at D1 on March 10 where members and special guests will have the opportunity to train alongside him while checking out the new workout center. For more information on D1 and Tebow’s involvement with the company (he’s a part-owner of two facilities), check out OGGOA‘s post from Jan. 17.

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FOUR BITS: Tebow, softball, lacrosse, Speights

1 » Denver Broncos quarterback Tim Tebow rarely takes much time off from football and is already continuing to work on his game this offseason. According to ESPNLosAngeles.com, which spoke with new UCLA offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone on Wednesday, Tebow has been in Southern California since last weekend working on his quarterbacking. “He just came out here to throw and work on a few things and see if we can just become a little more efficient in what he’s doing,” Mazzone said. “Throwing motion, footwork, everything I work on with all my quarterbacks.” Ensuring that while he helps Tebow he is simultaneously not going against Denver’s teachings, Mazzone (who has also worked with the former Heisman Trophy winner in each of the last two offseasons) expects to continue training with him for at least four more days if not longer. The goal is to work on Tebow’s passing efficiency as he completed less than 50 percent of his throws a year ago. “It’s kind of like a golfer who hit that bad drive,” he said of Tebow’s motion. “Every other guy in the foursome can tell you what you did wrong and all three opinions are different. We’re just going out and kind of going back to the basics and working on some fundamentals to try and become a little more efficient.”

2 » No. 1/3 Florida Gators softball (6-0) routed the Jacksonville Dolphins (2-4) in their home opener on Wednesday, run-ruling the visitors 10-2 in six innings. Freshman pitcher Lauren Haeger, starting for the first time in Gainesville, FL, struck out seven batters her a complete game four-hitter and did not allow a single earned run in her outing. Finding a power stroke early this season, junior designated hitter Kelsey Horton (2-3) hit a two-run homer in the bottom of the second for Florida’s first runs of the game and finished the contest with three RBIs. Junior first baseman Ensley Gammel (1-2, R, BB) added a two-RBI double in the fourth, junior catcher Brittany Schutte (2-3, RBI, 2 R, BB) continued her hot start from the plate, and sophomore shortstop Cheyenne Coyle (1-1, 2 BB) crossed the plate three times. UF will conclude their four-game home stand with a Friday-Sunday series against Michigan State.

3 » Also taking on Jacksonville in their home opener on Wednesday, No. 4 Gators lacrosse (1-1) toppled the Dolphins (0-1) with a 14-5 rout thanks to a pair of five-goal performances from freshman midfielder Nora Barry and junior attacker Gabi Wiegand. Barry, who also tied a school record with six draw controls, added three ground balls and four forced turnovers in the match. Junior M Brittany Dashiell had a goal and three assists and was the only other Florida player with more than two shots on the evening (three), while junior goalkeeper Mikey Meagher played strong in the box, tallying six saves while allowing just five goals. UF heads on the road Sunday to face UMBC in Baltimore, MD before returning to Gainesville for three-straight home games.

4 » Wednesday was a good night for two former Gators basketball players. Posting season-highs in minutes, points, rebounds and shooting (on more than five attempts), Memphis Grizzlies center Marreese Speights played 38 minutes and earned a double-double of 20 points (on 10-of-13 shooting) with 18 boards and two blocks. He led Memphis to a 105-100 win over New Jersey and has now performed very efficiently in three of his last four games. Over 1,500 miles away, forward Chandler Parsons and the Houston Rockets topped Oklahoma City 96-95 partially due to the former Florida player’s efforts. Parsons scored 14 points on 6-of-12 shooting and filled his stat line with seven rebounds, two assists and a pair of steals.

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No. 2 Florida softball owns weekend with 5-0 start

In a weekend that saw some Florida Gators teams falter and others come out on top, No. 2 softball ensured that everyone knew they were for real by winning five games over two days at the USF-Fairfield Inn & Suites Tournament in Tampa, FL.

Florida (5-0) spent Saturday wiping the floor with their competition, shutting out Long Island, Maine and Illinois State in a trio of run-ruled affairs by a combined 27-0.

Sophomore pitcher Hannah Rogers threw nine scoreless innings, striking out 14 while giving up just five hits and two walks combined in the first and third games, while freshman P Lauren Haeger earned her first win, shutout and complete game in orange and blue with a three-hit, 11-strikeout performance against Maine.

Haeger struggled a bit in the second appearance of her career, allowing an earned run on four walks and three hits with only three strikeouts against South Florida. Rogers came on to pitch the final 2.2 innings of the affair and helped lead the Gators to a 3-2 extra innings victory. She retook the hill in Florida’s final game Sunday against Florida Gulf Coast, striking out nine while only giving up three hits and walking one in a 5-0 win.

The hot starts of Rogers (4-0) and Haeger (1-0) were only matched by the hitting showcase put on by their teammates behind the plate.

The veteran Gators did their part with junior catcher Brittany Schutte finishing 5/15 with six RBIs, five runs and three walks; sophomore shortstop Cheyenne Coyle powering Florida by going 4/13 with two home runs, seven RBIs, three runs and two walks; junior right fielder Kelsey Horton hitting 7/13 with two homers, five RBIs, four runs and three walks; and senior center fielder Michelle Moultrie ending up 4/12 from the plate with eight runs, three walks and five stolen bases.

Florida’s freshmen played their part in the offensive breakout as well. Third baseman Sami Fagan hit .666 (10/15) with three RBIs, seven runs, two walks and a pair of stolen bases, and Haeger did double duty behind the plate and in the field by hitting 5/16 with a home run, eight RBIs, three runs and two walks while also playing first base.

There is no rest for the weary Gators coming any time soon as Florida will play four home games before the week is up including one against Jacksonville on Wednesday and a three-game series against Michigan State Friday-Sunday. UF will then travel to Palm Springs, CA the following week to participate in the Cathedral City Classic.

Photo Credit: SEC Digital Network

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