FOUR BITS: track titles, baseball, tennis, lacrosse

1 » Though it did not have the same team success that the swimming program did over the weekend, Florida Gators track & field still put together an impressive overall performance at the 2013 Southeastern Conference Championships. Florida’s men (117.00) finished second and the women (87.50) came in fourth to Arkansas, which won both titles (152.50, 114.50). The Gators captured six individual SEC titles overall.

2013 SEC Individual Titles (6)

» Men’s 60-meter hurdles – Eddie Lovett (7.54 seconds)* [third-straight]
» Men’s long jump – Marquis Dendy (8.25m/27-0.75)* [back-to-back]
» Men’s weight throw – David Triassi (21.59m/70-10)
» Men’s 800 meters – Sean Obinwa (1:48.40)
» Women’s mile – Cory McGee (4:35,33) [second in three years]
» Women’s distance medley relay – Mandy Perkins, Amani Bryant, Agata Strausa, Cory McGee (11:13.45)

2 » Florida baseball (3-5) got swept right out of the top 25 over the weekend as the Florida Gulf Coast Eagles (5-1) outscored their hosts 23-9 over three games from Friday-Sunday. The Gators have now lost four-straight games, and their schedule does not get easier going forward. Florida is set to face Miami in a three-game series Friday-Sunday and opens up SEC play on March 15. Seven league teams are currently ranked including Arkansas (2), Vanderbilt (3), LSU (4), South Carolina (8), Mississippi State (13), Kentucky (15) and Ole Miss (17).

3 » On Sunday at Linder Stadium at Ring Tennis Complex in front of a crowd of 1,033, the second-largest in program history, No. 4 Gators women’s tennis came from behind to defeat the No. 13 Stanford Cardinal 4-2. Florida (6-1) and Stanford (4-2) have split the last four meetings between the programs in NCAA play with the Gators earning the home victory after losing the doubles point. Florida knotted the match at 1-1 when junior Olivia Janowicz won her contest 6-2, 6-2 but soon fell behind 1-2 as No. 33 Ellen Tsay took down freshman No. 44 Danielle Collins by the same score. UF jumped back on top 2-1 when junior No. 9 Sofie Oyen beat No. 68 Kristie Ahn 6-2, 6-2 and took a 3-1 lead as junior No. 116 Alex Cercone upset No. 10 Krista Hardebeck 4-6, 6-4, 6-3. The remaining showdowns went back-and-forth but it was eventually freshman Brianna Morgan who won her second match point against No. 98 Stacy Tan to earn a 6-4, 3-6, 6-4 victory and deliver a big win for the Gators.

4 » No. 3 Florida lacrosse (6-0) remained undefeated after earning a 17-7 victory over the Albany Great Danes (0-1) on Sunday. The Gators jumped 3-0 in the early going and held a 12-3 lead at the half, cruising in the second half for the double-digit win. Sophomore Shannon Gilroy led the way with five goals on six shots. senior Ashley Bruns (four) and senior Kitty Cullen (three) combined for seven of the other 10 goals. Florida’s next opponent is No. 6 Syracuse, the team that won a controversial overtime match over UF in the 2012 NCAA Tournament. The schools will go head-to-head in Miami Gardens, FL on Saturday.

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14 Gator Bites for Tuesday, February 19

From time to time, OGGOA will come across a plethora of news and notes that we wish to share – too much to fit into one of our truncated BITS segments. When stories like these fall through the cracks, we catch and wrap them all up with Gator Bites.

» Rather than doubling down on disappointment while stuck playing in the state North Carolina, No. 2 Florida Gators women’s tennis (4-1) came from behind on Monday to pick up a huge victory over the No. 1 North Carolina Tar Heels (9-1) in Chapel Hill, NC. UNC, which took over for UF as the No. 1 team in the country last week, held a 2-0 advantage over its visitors after winning the doubles point and a singles match to start the contest. The Gators answered by rallying with four consecutive singles match victories to pick up the 4-2 win. First, junior Olivia Janowicz took down No. 79 Tessa Lyons 6-2, 6-1. Freshman Brianna Morgan then picked up a 6-1, 6-1 win over No. 122 Lauren McHale, leaving the match in the hands of Florida’s two best players. No. 4 senior Lauren Embree came through in the clutch once again with a 6-4, 1-6, 6-2 victory against No. 7 Gina Suarez-Malaguti, and No. 9 junior Sofie Oyen fought hard on court two to defeat No. 30 Zoe De Bruycker 3-6, 6-1, 6-3. UF’s loss on Sunday at No. 4 Duke was its first in over a year’s time. By taking down the Tar Heels on Monday, the Gators avoided falling in consecutive matches for the first time in three years.

» Former Florida guard Matt Walsh, who signed a deal with Spirou Charleroi of Belgium in August 2012, told OGGOA on Monday that his contract has been purchased by Brose Baskets of Bamberg, Germany. The three-time defending German champions play in the Euroleague and are hoping Walsh helps push them to a fourth-straight title.

» Despite multiple reports pointing to the contrary, Minnesota Vikings general manager Rick Spielman on Friday said he has “no intent” of trading wide receiver Percy Harvin, who is entering the final year of his rookie contract. Harvin raised concerns about Minnesota’s offense (and how he was not utilized much) prior to the 2012 season and reportedly got into an explosive verbal argument with head coach Leslie Frazier during the season. While it does look like he and the Vikings will split ways, multiple players have come out in his defense and expressed their desire to see him return to the team. The latest to do so is quarterback Christian Ponder, who said he “obviously” wants Harvin to return because “he’s a tremendous player” and “a heck of a part of this offense and this team in general.” Ponder told KFAN in Minneapolis, MN that he and Harvin have a good relationship and “spent some extra time together” working on their on-field chemistry during the last offseason.

Read 11 more bites of Florida Gators news…after the break!
Continue Reading » 14 Gator Bites for Tuesday, February 19

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FOUR BITS: Harvin, transfers, track & field, O’Day

1 » According to Mike Max of Minnesota CBS affiliate WCCO, former Florida Gators wide receiver Percy Harvin is on the Minnesota Vikings’ trading block. As was speculated previously, Max reports that “the No. 1 reason Percy Harvin left the team this season was not his injury, but it was motivated by a blowup he had with Vikings head coach Leslie Frazier.” Harvin, who reportedly got in a verbal argument with former Minnesota head coach Brad Childress and once reportedly attempted to choke former Gators wide receivers coach Billy Gonzales after the two got in an argument during practice, supposedly “had an embarrassing tirade directed towards Frasier, disrespecting the coach during the season when Harvin was sidelined with an injured ankle.” Shortly thereafter, the Vikings put him on injured reserve. A MVP candidate during the 2012 season until he got injured, Harvin is entering the final year of his rookie contract. He will likely command a second-round pick with some additional compensation but not the first-round selection his talent deserves as front offices have concerns about his injury history and demeanor within a team environment. Harvin can be traded when free agency begins for the 2013 league year on March 12.

2 » Two players Florida would love to have in uniform right now while the team’s roster is under siege by injuries are transfers junior center Damontre Harris and sophomore forward Dorian Finney-Smith. Unfortunately for the Gators, the two are sitting out their NCAA-mandated redshirt season; fortunately for UF, the duo is forming a close bond and preparing to contribute in 2013-14. Harris, who is still recovering from surgery he had on a torn labrum, told Florida’s school website that “the worst part” of the whole situation is “put[ting] in the work everybody else puts in, but you don’t get to show or perform or demonstrate all that work.” He added, “I think about it every day…actually wearing a Gator uniform. I’ve even had dreams about it but then I wake up knowing I still have to wait ‘till next year.” Finney-Smith is equally anxious. “I just wish I’d signed with Florida out of high school,” he said. “Can’t do nothing about it now, though, but practice hard and wait for my time to get here.”

3 » Gators track and field was split up over the weekend with half of the No. 2 men’s team and No. 7 women’s team participating in the 2013 Husky Classic (Seattle, WA) and 2013 Virginia Tech Elite Meet (Blacksburg, VA). In the latter meet, sophomore Marquis Dendy posted a 7.99m/26-2.75 in the men’s long jump, becoming the new NCAA leader in the event in the process. Also making noise in Blacksburg was junior sprinter Eddie Lovett, who matched his own Florida school record with time of 7.66 in the men’s 60-meter hurdles. Dendy and Lovett had their success on Friday with Saturday being all about sophomore Taylor Burke, who participated in the same meet and broke the school record in the women’s high jump with a personal best of 1.86m/6-125. Burke, a dual-sport star who started at goalkeeper for the soccer team this season, is expected to continue her track career as a professional after graduation.

4 » Headed for arbitration with the Baltimore Orioles, right-handed pitcher Darren O’Day agreed to a two-year, $5.8 million deal with the club, according to CBSSports.com’s Jon Heyman. As a reliever in Baltimore last season, O’Day went 7-1 with a 2.28 ERA, 0.94 WHIP and a 4.9 K/BB ratio. He was a contributor to the Orioles’ huge turnaround in 2012 and certainly a piece that management wants to have around for the foreseeable future.

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SIX BITS: NFL, Rainey, Beal, Rosario, track

1 » In addition to Pittsburgh Steelers running back Chris Rainey (who is expected to be released from his contract) and Buffalo Bills wide receiver David Nelson (a restricted free agent), six other former Florida Gators currently under contract with NFL teams will be unrestricted free agents the day after the Super Bowl. Those players include Atlanta Falcons linebacker Mike Peterson, Carolina Panthers wide receiver Louis Murphy, Kansas City Chiefs LB Brandon Siler, Oakland Raiders guard Cooper Carlisle, Pittsburgh tackle Max Starks and Washington Redskins quarterback Rex Grossman.

On rosters for Super Bowl XLVII are San Francisco 49ers defensive lineman Ray McDonald and Baltimore Ravens WR Deonte Thompson. The end result and may very well come down to which quarterback stands out and makes as few mistakes as possible.

2 » Speaking of Rainey, the former Gators running back had his recent simple battery charge reduced to disorderly conduct by Alachua County Judge Walter Green after the State Attorney’s Office decided it did not have enough evidence to pursue the more serious offense. The judge withheld adjudication and fined Rainey $200 to go along with court costs of $300 for the offense, effectively ending the legal issue, according to Florida Today. The alleged victim in the case denied that Rainey hit her the day after his arrest and contradicting statements from witnesses made the state’s case inconclusive. The Steelers announced the day of Rainey’s arrest that they had decided to waive him; however, NFL transactions made during the postseason cannot be completed until after the Super Bowl. With the charges being significantly reduced, Pittsburgh could theoretically have a change of heart or consider bringing Rainey back on a cheaper free agent contract.

Check out four more BITS of Gators news…after the break!
Continue Reading » SIX BITS: NFL, Rainey, Beal, Rosario, track

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Top 12 for 2012: On the Field Moments of the Year

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.

[Read: The Silver Lining - "Failure" is not a dirty word]

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.

Continue Reading » Top 12 for 2012: On the Field Moments of the Year

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Top 12 for 2012: Off the Field Stories of the Year

For as much as the Florida Gators accomplished on the field in 2012 (check out Monday’s post), the Gator Nation was making plenty of news off of it as well. From crazy occurrences and strange decisions to receiving major awards and being involved in the biggest sports stories of the last 12 months, Florida was spread all over the sports landscape in 2012. Below are OGGOA‘s Top 12 Off the Field Stories of the Year.

12 » A WACKY YEAR, INDEED
For every major story and exciting moment that occurred in 2012, there were plenty of instances in which Gators fans could not do anything but shake their heads, furrow their brows or shrug their shoulders at something they just saw or heard. Below is a list-within-a-list of the 10 most absurd moments of the year (sorted chronologically). Don’t worry, the rest of these stories are much shorter, so keep reading.

(1) Right in the middle of spring practice on Feb. 17, with coaches raving about team chemistry and noting massive improvement from the previous year, junior safety Matt Elam tweeted out a picture that looks like junior defensive end Dominique Easley riding his scooter inside the Florida football facility and around the Gator Head the players touch before heading out to the field each week. (2) One week after playing his last game as a member of the Gators basketball team, then-senior point guard Erving Walker found himself in trouble with the law when he was charged on March 30 with two misdemeanors for allegedly stealing a taco from a street vendor and evading police in Gainesville, FL. (3) Need a lesson on how to turn off an employer? Veteran wide receiver Jabar Gaffney went off on an epic Twitter rant on April 12, sending out derogatory statements about his wife and cousin (fellow former Gators star cornerback Lito Sheppard) only to claim three hours later that his account was hacked. (4) What better way to honor your favorite player than to get your hair cut and designed to look like him? That’s what San Antonio Spurs fan Patrick Gonzalez did for forward Matt Bonner. Gonzalez’s hair cut nearly got him suspended from school on May 16, but it also got Bonner’s attention and resulted in a pair of tickets and a meeting at a playoff game. (5) After some rather mundane barbs went back-and-forth between Florida head coach Will Muschamp and Texas A&M Aggies head coach Kevin Sumlin over the summer, Mayor Nancy Berry of College Station, TX decided to post a comedic video of her poking good-natured fun at the former Texas defensive coordinator on June 1.

(6) Hours after taking home the first NCAA Outdoor Championship in program history on June 10, Gators track & field suffered a serious scare in the air when its plane suffered a cracked windshield at 37,000 feet and underwent a rough landing in Tuscaloosa, AL. The windshield shattered after the plane landed but everyone was OK. (7) How do you answer a quarterback controversy and answer questions about which signal caller is going to start the first game of the season? Start both of them! That’s what Muschamp did on Sept. 1 when sophomores Jacoby Brissett (quarterback) and Jeff Driskel (wide receiver) both came out with the starting offense on its first play from scrimmage against Bowling Green. (8) With Muschamp leading the team, he is sure to find his way on this list at least once per year. In a 13-day span, Muschamp made headlines by being himself. After Florida defeated LSU at home on Dec. 7, he decided to celebrate by crowd surfing over his own players in the locker room. Two weeks later, at halftime against South Carolina, Muschamp vented his frustration about the officiating to Brady Ackerman of the Gator Radio Network. He saw an official walking by as the teams headed to their respective locker rooms and made sure to make it known how upset he was at some of the calls in the first half. “Well, we just gotta continue to capitalize on what we’re doing and OVERCOME THE ADVERSITY ON THE FIELD!” (9) With ESPN’s College GameDay in Gainesville for the South Carolina game, having former Gators swimmer Ryan Lochte on set as the guest picker was an easy and obvious decision for the network. Never did ESPN guess that he would find difficulty in reading off the list of picks provided for him. (10) Why is Chad Johnson in Gainesville … and why is he meeting with Florida? Those were questions fans asked on Nov. 2 when it was revealed that the NFL free agent wide receiver – fresh off being embarrassed on national television when he was cut by the Miami Dolphins after being arrested for allegedly hitting his wife – had shown up in town and was taking pictures with players on the team one day before UF took on Missouri.

Continue Reading » Top 12 for 2012: Off the Field Stories of the Year

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FOUR BITS: offense, LSU, Meyer, Olympics

1 » X&O Labs, a football research company for coaches, took a special look on Tuesday at the Florida Gators offense and how the team’s downhill running game was able to dominate the LSU Tigers last Saturday. Noting that new offensive coordinator Brent Pease has “has implemented some of the same heavy, unbalanced formations that he used at Boise to gash defenses,” senior research manager Mike Kuchar outlined five of the different formations and went into even greater detail in the video below.

2 » Asked to explain this week why they were so gassed on Saturday in Gainesville, FL, LSU players told the Shreveport Times that heat-related fatigue was at fault. “It is Florida,” said linebacker Kevin Minter, who cramped up in the third quarter after dominating the first half and still finished the game with a school-record 20 total tackles. “The humidity is ridiculous. [...] We had a lot of miscues when we were breathing hard. You can’t let fatigue take over.”

3 » With the Gators having started the season 5-0 and looking like a team rejuvenated under head coach Will Muschamp, it was only a matter of time before new Ohio State head coach Urban Meyer was asked about presumably leaving the cupboard bare for his successor. “I don’t want to get into all that cupboard is bare [stuff], because that’s one man’s opinion, and we’ve got to move on,” he told the Associated Press. “I’m very proud of those guys. Love those guys.” Meyer also said he was proud of Florida’s victory over LSU. “Always be a Gator. I keep in touch with some of those players. Great win. Great, tough win against a tough opponent, absolutely,” he said.

4 » The University of Florida honored on Saturday nearly two dozen athletes and coaches that participated in the 2012 London Olympics. In the video below, courtesy of GatorVision.tv, swimmers Ryan Lochte and Conor Dwyer and triple jumper Christian Taylor are all interviewed about their respective experiences. (Note that Dwyer thought a 6-0 halftime lead by LSU could realistically result in a 13-10 win for Florida.)

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FOUR BITS: Evans, O’Day, Taylor, McDonald

1 » Florida Gators senior safety Josh Evans opened up to the New York Post recently about the difficulties he faced after losing his mother over six years ago while still in eighth grade. In fact, Evans had to come to grips with the situation head-on considering he was the only one in the house at the time of his mom’s passing. “I was actually there. My mother had been dealing with cancer for a couple of years, and I had no clue, I didn’t know she had cancer because I was young, my parents didn’t want the baby boy to know that she was sick to that magnitude,” he explained. “It was toward the end of the school year, graduation was coming up, eighth grade, I had a day off from school. So my father went to work and he said, ‘Make sure you check on her every 10-20 minutes.’ I was like, ‘Alright, I will.’ After he left, 10, 15 minutes went by, I walked back in the room to check on her and that was it. I saw something that changed my life forever.” Read more.

2 » Two former Florida baseball players began the 2012 MLB Playoffs late last week though only one remains past the wild card qualification weekend. Right-handed pitcher Darren O’Day has already seen action as a reliever for the Baltimore Orioles as the team got past the wild card stage and is now engaged in a five-game series with the New York Yankees. Atlanta Braves catcher David Ross, on the other hand, hit a two-run homer in his team’s game but is now out of the playoffs due to the Braves losing.

3 » Former Florida jumpers Christian Taylor and Will Claye – who took home gold and silver, respectively, in the triple jump at the 2012 London Olympics over the summer (Claye also won bronze in the long jump) – are two of six male athletes nominated for 2012 Jesse Owens Athlete of the Year, an award that recognizes track & field’s best male and female athlete. The award will be officially presented on Dec. 1. with fans receiving the opportunity to vote for their favorite.

4 » San Francisco 49ers defensive end Ray McDonald may not post the gaudy stats like some of his contemporaries, but he is just as integral to his team’s success as any of the top players at his position in the NFL. Speaking with the 49ers’ team website last week, defensive coordinator Vic Fangio raved about what McDonald brings to the table each day. “He has a tremendous impact on any game and on our defense,” he said. “When teams have a hard time running, he’s right in the middle of that. Whether he’s being credited with a tackle or not is irrelevant.” After playing sparingly as a reserve in his first few seasons, McDonald was signed to a starter’s contract in 2011 (five years, $20 million) and moved into that role last year. He is more than living up to his end of the bargain and could be in line for a raise before his deal expires in 2015.

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