Gators soccer notches upset, volleyball sweeps

Florida Gators soccer, coming off a disappointing loss to open the season that dropped the team out of the top 25, rebounded in a major way over the weekend while playing a pair of matches on the road in Chapel Hill, NC.

After fighting tooth-and-nail with the No. 19 North Carolina Tar Heels (0-1-1) on Friday in what would ultimately end up as a scoreless draw following two overtimes, Florida (1-1-1) came back from two goals down to pull off an impressive 3-2 upset of the No. 2 Duke Blue Devils (3-1) in overtime on Sunday.

The Gators trailed by two goals early in the contest, allowing Blue Devils midfielder Gilda Doria (10’) and Cassie Pecht (29’) to find the back of the net. Florida would cut their deficit in half just 10 minutes later as sophomore forward Jillian Graff kicked in a pass from sophomore midfielder Havana Solaun at 39’.

UF knotted the match at 65’ thanks to a bit of luck after a corner kick by senior MF/F Erika Tymrak deflected off a Duke player and was scored as an own goal.

The two teams held even through the end of regulation, but the Gators would come out on top just minutes into extra time when Tyrak once again came through in the clutch by booing the golden goal off a pass from redshirt senior F/MF McKenzie Barney.

Florida is now riding a wave of momentum into Friday’s road match against No. 3 Florida State, which is set to air at 7 p.m. live on ESPN3.com. The Gators will follow that up with two home games before beginning league play on Sept. 14.

No. 18 Florida volleyball (3-0) may not have had been faced with the same challenges that their soccer counterparts were, but the Gators were equally impressive while hosting the Campus USA Credit Union Invitational from Aug. 24-25 in Gainesville, FL.

The Gators swept all three of their weekend opponents, picking up consecutive 3-0 victories over the Florida International Panthers (0-1), Florida A&M Rattlers (0-2) and Florida Gulf Coast Eagles (2-1) over the course of two days.

Junior middle back Chloe Mann (42 kills, 48 points) led the way for Florida with averages of 14 kills and 16 points over the three contests. Joining her with impressive performances of their own were freshman outside hitters Ziva Recek (29 kills, 30 points) and Berkley Whaley (21 kills, 27.5 points).

Gigi Meyer, the daughter of former UF head coach Urban Meyer and a member of the FGCU volleyball team, competed in the event as well. She registered 60 assists over her team’s three matches (10 against Florida).

Next up for the Gators is the Nike Big Four Classic from Aug. 31-Sept. 1 in University Park, PA. Florida will take on No. 2 Texas and No. 6 Stanford in the two-day event.

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TWO BITS: Gators baseball, softball win three

1 » No. 1 Florida Gators baseball (12-1) won their 10th consecutive game with a 15-2 thrashing of the Florida A&M Rattlers (1-12) on Wednesday at McKethan Stadium in Gainesville, FL. Freshman outfielder Justin Shafer (1/2) notched a career-high six RBIs on a double and three sacrifice flies. He also pitched the final frame of the game, striking out the side on 14 pitches. Freshman right-handed pitcher Johnny Magliozzi (3.0 IP, 6 H, K) got the start but gave up two earned runs in his outing, giving senior RHP Greg Larson (2-0, 3.0 IP, 3 H, 2 BB, 4 K) the opportunity to supplant him and pick up the victory. Junior shortstop Nolan Fontana (1/1, 2 RBI, 3 R, 3 BB) was also stellar at the plate, and senior right fielder Preston Tucker (1/4, 2 RBI, R, BB) picked up the 274th hit of his career on a double in the fifth, tying Jeff Corsaletti (2002-05) for fourth on the school’s all-time list. Florida remains undefeated (17-0) against Florida A&M and will have one day off before hosting Florida Gulf Coast for a three-game series on Friday (7 p.m.), Saturday (4 p.m.) and Sunday (1 p.m. on Sun Sports).

2 » No. 3 Gators softball (21-1, 2-0 SEC) extended their winning streak to 11 games with a doubleheader sweep of the Mississippi State Bulldogs (14-7, 0-2 SEC) to open Southeastern Conference play on the road in Starkville, MS. Florida defeated Mississippi State 1-0 behind a complete game one-hit shutout by sophomore RHP Hannah Rogers (11-0) in the first game and earned an equally hard-fought 8-5 win in the second contest with freshman RHP Alyssa Bache (4-0) earning the victory and Rogers (S1) picking up the save. Rogers struck out eight in the opening contest but was only supported by three hits from the Gators including what would be a game-winning RBI by freshman left fielder Jessica Damico (1-3) in the fifth. Freshman RHP Lauren Haeger started the second game but was roughed up for five runs (two earned) on three hits with three walks in just 1.2 innings. Bache (2.1 IP, 2 H, BB, K) and Rogers (3.0 IP, H, 3 K) closed the game out as sophomore RF Kasey Fagan (2-3, 3 RBI, BB) led the way at the plate. Haeger (1-3, R, 2 BB) and sophomore SS Cheyenne Coyle (0-1, R, 2 BB) added a RBI each, and junior catcher Kelsey Horton (1-4) drove in two runs with yet another homer. Florida will close out the week by playing a three-game weekend road series at Tennessee on Friday (6 p.m.), Saturday (2 p.m.) and Sunday (noon).

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FOUR BITS: Horford, Richard, Lawrence, LSU

1 » Over the last month two sources have told OGGOA that the Atlanta Hawks are working feverishly to sign former Florida Gators two-time National Championship-winning forward/center Al Horford to a long-term extension. The No. 3 overall pick in the 2007 NBA Draft, Horford was selected to his first NBA All-Star team last season. He averaged career-highs in points (14.2), rebounds (9.9), field goal percentage (55.1%), free throw percentage (75.3%) and minutes (35.1) while starting all of Atlanta’s games in 2009-10. Horford was named a team captain this offseason and should receive a deal for more than the five years and $60 million given to former teammate F/C Joakim Noah by the Chicago Bulls early this week.

2 » On the opposite end of the spectrum, the Bulls announced Wednesday that they have waived former Gators F/C Chris Richard after re-signing him on Sept. 27. Richard filled in for Noah while he was nursing a plantar faciitis injury last season, playing in 18 games and averaging 2.1 points and 3.3 rebounds. OGGOA spoke to Richard early this summer in an exclusive interview, which you can read here.

3 » Former Florida wide receiver T.J. Lawrence, now playing for the Florida A&M Rattlers, is finally happy as he has been seeing the field and getting plenty of playing time. On Wednesday he told The Famuan that he wanted to leave the Gators a full year before he actually did. “I guess I wasn’t happy,” Lawrence said. “I wanted to leave a year earlier, but I said I’d stick it out another year. I had to make the decision to leave because I wasn’t happy and I wasn’t playing as much as I wanted to.” Now Lawrence feels he is “being utilized how I want to be utilized.” He has 11 receptions for 166 yards this season, both team-highs.

4 » During the SEC conference call on Wednesday, LSU Tigers head coach Les Miles noted that starting defensive end Sam Montgomery will miss the remainder of the season after tearing ligaments in his right knee. Montgomery will likely undergo reconstructive surgery.

Photo Credit: Atlanta Hawks

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FOUR BITS: Scouts, Lawrence, Johnson, Tebow

1 » When Alabama Crimson Tide head coach Nick Saban decided to close off his team’s practices to NFL scouts, there was some outrage that he may have gone too far. The Tuscaloosa News qualified the action by stating that Florida Gators head coach Urban Meyer had mandated the same thing. The only problem? He didn’t. Florida associate athletics director for communications Steve McClain pointed out Wednesday that the Gators have not changed their policy and scouts will still be allowed to attend during designated periods (usually during the regular season and select two-a-days). However, as noted before, Meyer has indeed closed practice to the media and fans in an effort to keep out questionable characters or “scumbags” as he so eloquently put it.

2 » On Aug. 5, Meyer announced that redshirt sophomore wide receiver T.J. Lawrence had requested and received a release from his University of Florida scholarship. Wednesday, Lawrence told The Lakeland Ledger that he has decided to transfer to the Florida A&M Rattlers. “It’s a big shocker because a lot of people wouldn’t expect Florida A&M University, but I’m going there to be a two-sport athlete,” Lawrence said. His main motivation for leaving UF was a lack of playing time.

3 » Interesting video from The Gainesville Sun of redshirt senior guard Carl Johnson interviewing freshman running back Mack Brown at Florida Media Day.

4 » Focus on the Family, the anti-abortion group that purchased a Super Bowl ad featuring former Gators quarterback Tim Tebow and his mother Pam Tebow, has decided to purchase statewide television advertisements during every Denver Broncos game for the upcoming season. Though the new ads will not feature or mention Tebow, the fact that the company is based in Colorado and already has the recognition of having previously worked with Tebow certainly served as a motivating factor in this decision.

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Christian Green drops UF, down to FSU and UGA

Reports from Rivals Tuesday night had four-star athlete recruit Christian Green (Tampa, FL) dropping the Florida Gators from his final three and narrowing his focus to two teams – the Florida State Seminoles and Georgia Bulldogs.

The St. Petersburg Times spoke with his father, Hiram Green, who confirmed his son’s latest decision. “It’s between those two,” he said. Lifelong Seminoles fans, Green and his family always considered Florida State as his top option, but a push from Georgia head coach Mark Richt could sway him North.

Green’s older brother Brandon committed to the Florida A&M Rattlers on Sunday. Florida A&M is also located in Tallahassee, FL, and Green will take an official visit to FSU this weekend. He checked out Florida two weeks ago.

“They’re an excellent program,” Hiram Green said of the Gators. “They’ve got an excellent coaching staff and [head coach] Urban Meyer is a first-class person. It was tough for [Christian].”

Photo Credit: BallHype.com

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SIX BITS: Kiffin, Moody, SEC, Nixon, Bowden

1 » The Tennessee Volunteers may be 7-5 with a .500 record in the Southeastern Conference, but far be it for head coach Lane Kiffin to keep his mouth shut – especially when getting a chance to talk about the coaching staff of the No. 1 Florida Gators. When asked about the SEC Championship game, Kiffin responded in the only way possible for him. “Florida has better players, Alabama has better coaches,” he said.

2 » Florida junior transfer running back Emmanuel Moody (ankle) practiced at full speed on Tuesday and will be active for Saturday. Head coach urban Meyer worked the Gators on the field turf practice field in order to best simulate the Georgia Dome field.

3 » The Gators have appeared in the SEC Championship game nine times while the Crimson Tide have only made six appearances – all against Florida. In those games, Alabama is 2-4 with wins in 1992 and 1999.

4 » Starting the last three games, freshman left tackle Xavier Nixon has been a notable addition to Florida’s offensive line. The rebuilt unit has only allowed senior quarterback Tim Tebow to be sacked four times; he was sacked 21 times in the nine prior games. “You need that presence inside, and when coach [Steve] Addazio did that, that was a great tactical move,” Meyer said. “X has gotten a lot better. X did not play great Saturday. He had some missed assignments, but the one thing about him is he plays hard. He has a passion. He’ll get better.” Junior right guard Mike Pouncey agrees. “Xavier’s been playing good,” he said. “He’s been playing better than the other guys that were in there. Moving Carl [Johnson] inside is a big key.”

5 » During his post-practice press availability, Meyer showed his respect for Florida State Seminoles head coach Bobby Bowden. “I’m good friends with coach Bowden, and I have a lot of respect for him,” he said. “He’s great for college football. [44 years of coaching] is a long time. [I] just want to go another week. You admire a guy that had the stamina and [did] it the right way. That’s the thing you always admire about coach Bowden – he’s done it the right way.”

6 » Florida women’s basketball (3-4) fell 72-71 to the Florida A&M Rattlers (4-2) in the first game of a doubleheader Tuesday at the Stephen C. O’Connell Center. The Gators trailed by 12 points with 48.2 seconds remaining but scored the last 11 points to cut the deficit to one with 1.5 seconds left on the clock. Sophomore center Azania Stewart scored a career-high 17 points, though Florida only shot 36.9 percent.

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Basketball improves to 7-0 with win over Rattlers

No. 13/17 Florida Gators basketball (7-0) allowed the Florida A&M Rattlers (0-8) to get off to a hot start but pulled away in the second half to win 80-59 in the Stephen C. O’Connell Center on Tuesday night. Senior forward Dan Werner led the Gators with one of the best games of his career, scoring a team-high 16 points on 6-of-8 shooting (4-of-6 from three) and a team-high nine rebounds in the contest (though he had five turnovers). Four Florida players finished the game in double figures including junior F Alex Tyus (15), redshirt junior transfer center Vernon Macklin (14) and sophomore point guard Erving Walker (10).

The Rattlers shot almost 49 percent from the field in the first half, taking advantage of sloppy defense and keeping the Gators’ lead within four points at halftime. Florida pulled away immediately after the break with a 23-4 run to start the second half. They never looked back, shooting 51.7 percent from the field and 35 percent from beyond the arc.

“Between turnovers, quick shots and some defensive lapses, we didn’t play well for about 20 minutes – and played pretty well for about 20 minutes,” head coach Billy Donovan said. “I thought our patience on the offensive end, especially in transition with some of the passes we tried to make, it was almost like we diffused our own energy with some of the decisions we made when we had a chance to get on a roll.”

Sophomore guard/forward Ray Shipman started the game over prized freshman Kenny Boynton, though Donovan did not provide a reason for the switch. Shipman took advantage of the opportunity and recorded a team-high four steals with six points while Boynton went 0-for-7 from the field; however, the freshman did dish out a career-high nine assists and earned two steals by playing hard all night.

Macklin, who also finished with seven rebounds, was able to use his size and strength to his advantage all night. He dominated Florida A&M with dunks, finger rolls and post moves, even throwing up a double clutch layup that got the Rowdy Reptiles excited. All ten Gators who saw court time scored, including Israeli freshman PG Rod Tishman who put up the first points of his career on two free throws.

Florida basketball improved to 11-0 all-time against the Rattlers and are 29-0 against the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference. The Gators will take a short trip to Jacksonville, FL, on Friday for their next game against the Jacksonville Dolphins (0-4) at 7 p.m.

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FOUR BITS: Strong & Tebow award finalists, basketball vs. A&M, bid on a Pro Combat locker

1 » Florida Gators defensive coordinator Charlie Strong has been named as one of the five finalists for the 2009 Broyles Award, which is given to the top assistant coach in college football each season. Nominated along with Strong are defensive coordinators Kirby Smart (Alabama) and Dick Bumpas (TCU) and offensive coordinators Jeff Quinn (Cincinnati) and Bryan Harsin (Boise State). Strong has never won the award before, though he is a three-time finalist (2000, 2007, 2008).

2 » Also being honored as an award finalist on Tuesday is senior quarterback Tim Tebow. Tebow, one of 10 named to the 2009 Manning Award‘s short list, could become the first two-time winner in its history. It is his third consecutive nomination. The Manning is the only quarterback award in college football that takes into account the candidates’ bowl performances. Colt McCoy (Texas), Tony Pike (Cincinnati), Jimmy Clausen (Notre Dame), Ryan Mallett (Arkansas), Kellen Moore (Boise State), Dan LeFevour (Central Michigan), Case Keenum (Houston), Max Hall (BYU) and Andy Dalton (TCU) are the other nine finalists.

3 » Having secured their first Top 25 ranking since Jan. 19, No. 13/17 Florida basketball is back in action tonight against the Florida A&M Rattlers at 7 p.m. in the Stephen C. O’Connell Center. The game is the second part of a doubleheader that also features the schools’ women’s teams. The first game tips off at 4:30 p.m.

4 » Did you like the special Nike Pro Combat uniforms the Gators wore Saturday against the Florida State Seminoles? The Oregon-based shoe and clothing company is now letting fans bid on a complete uniform locker including a helmet, jersey, shoes and cleats. Bidding starts at $1,200 and all proceeds will benefit Gator Boosters, Inc. I will take this time to note that OGGOA does accept gifts and donations.

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