TWO BITS: Florida soccer advances to Elite Eight; Gators volleyball captures 21st SEC title

1 » No. 10 Florida Gators soccer on Sunday advanced to the Elite Eight of the 2014 NCAA Tournament after taking down the No. 16 Texas Tech Red Raiders 3-2 at Donald R. Dizney Stadium in Gainesville, Florida. The Gators may have fallen short of winning their league crown, but Florida is making a significant effort in NCAA play, moving on to the quarterfinals for the fifth time in program history and first since 2003. UF got on the board first with senior midfielder Havana Solaun striking the ball from 20 yards out; it deflected off the goalkeeper’s outstretched hand, and then the post, before finding the back of the net and putting the Gators up 1-0 at 14′. Florida went ahead 2-0 at 21′ after scoring on a glancing header by sophomore forward Savannah Jordan, which came off a free kick from senior MF Annie Speese. Texas Tech fought back with consecutive goals at 37′ and 64′ to tie thing sup, but Speese notched the game-winning goal at 81′ to send UF forward in the postseason.

The Gators will travel out west to continue their trek toward the NCAA title as Florida will next take on the Stanford Cardinal on Friday at 10 p.m. in Palo Alto, California.

2 » It was an eventful week for No. 6 Gators volleyball, which captured the outright 2014 Southeastern Conference Championship on Friday with a 3-1 win against the Ole Miss Rebels in Oxford, Mississippi. The SEC regular-season title is Florida’s second in the last three years and 21st in the last 24 seasons (1991-2008, 2010, 2012), all of which have come under head coach Mary Wise. On Sunday, the Gators won their 18th-straight match of the season, taking down the Arkansas Razorbacks in Fayetteville, Arkansas. Florida has its longest winning streak since 2010 and will play its final games of the regular season on Wednesday vs. South Carolina and Saturday at Texas.

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Advancing in SEC Tournament, Gators soccer looks to add to its impressive 2013 haul

No. 5 Florida Gators soccer (16-3-1, 9-2 SEC) put together a heck of a regular season but has not received the attention it’s deserved due to the tumultuous and something-new-happens-every-day nature of its football counterpart.

Nevertheless, Florida is currently on a month-long, eight-match winning streak while being led by freshman forward Savannah Jordan, who is putting together one of the greatest goal-scoring seasons in program history.

Jordan on Monday was named the 2013 SEC Offensive Player of the Year, becoming the first freshman in league history to receive the honor. It should be no surprise that she was chosen as the 2013 SEC Freshman of the Year while also being named an All-SEC (first team) and SEC All-Freshman player.

Junior midfielder Havana Solaun and sophomore defender Christen Westphal joined Jordan on the All-SEC team, while freshman MF Pamela Begič also picked up an SEC All-Freshman honor.

Jordan has already surpassed Abby Wambach’s freshman goal scoring record and is on pace to find a spot among the greatest single-season goal scorers in school history. She has already found the back of the net 21 times, putting her two goals out of the top-five and the Gators freshman record held by Andi Sellers.

Her latest goal came in the first round of the 2013 SEC Tournament as one-seed UF picked up a 1-0 victory over the eight-seed Arkansas Razorbacks (13-8-0) on Wednesday in Orange Beach, AL.

Florida will square off against Ole Miss in the semifinals on Friday at 5 p.m. The Gators have already won the regular season 2013 SEC Championship, splitting the title with Texas A&M. It was UF’s eight-straight SEC regular season crown. Florida is now looking to win its third tournament title in the last four seasons.

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Jordan impresses as Florida soccer starts 2-0

No. 9 Florida Gators soccer may very well have a freshman sensation on its hands, and her name is Savannah Jordan.

As the Gators (2-0) kicked off the 2013 season over the weekend with a pair of 3-1 victories – defeating the FGCU Eagles (0-1) on Friday and Oregon State Beavers (0-2) on Sunday at James G. Pressly Stadium in Gainesville, FL – Jordan made her presence known by scoring five-straight goals, registering a hat trick and becoming just the second freshman in program history to score twice in a season opener.

Junior midfielder Havana Solaun got things going for Florida on Friday when she booted in the Gators’ first goal of the season at 35′ from 12 yards in front of the net.

Florida then allowed FGCU to pull even just minutes before halftime at 44’ in what would be the only shot the Eagles were able to attempt all evening.

Jordan did what she should to break the tie and ensured she would win her first career collegiate match, responding by scoring a pair of unassisted goals – first at 81’ to take the lead and then at 86’ to provide a bit of insurance for her team.

In doing so, she became the first Florida freshman since 1995 – the program’s inaugural season – to score twice in a season opener (Aimee Wagstaff).

Continue Reading » Jordan impresses as Florida soccer starts 2-0

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Florida soccer tops Auburn 3-0 to win SEC title

One-seed Florida Gators soccer (17-4-1) captured the Southeastern Conference Tournament Championship on Saturday for the first time since 2010 by scoring two first-half goals and adding an insurance goal in the second half as part of a shutout victory over the six-seed Auburn Tigers (12-10-1).

No. 10 Florida topped Auburn 3-0 at the Orange Beach Sportsplex in Orange Beach, AL, winning its second SEC title of the 2012 season after bringing home the regular season crown (11-2-0 SEC) on Oct. 25.

Junior forward Adriana Leon got the Gators on the board for the first time at 27’, scoring her fifth goal of the season on a give-and-go with assists from sophomore midfielder Havana Solaun and senior F/MF Erika Tymrak.

Florida was able to double up just four minutes later at 31’ when Tymark, off passes from Solaun and senior MF Holly King, struck the ball into the lower left corner of the net for her eighth goal of the year. She was later named the 2012 SEC Tournament Most Valuable Player (three goals, three assists).

The Gators played tough defense in the second half but lost a key player due to injury. Senior MF Jo Dragotta contested a ball in the air and took an elbow to the side of her head. She remained on the field for a number of minutes but eventually walked off the pitch wearing a neck brace but under her own power.

Solaun added an insurance goal for UF at 70′, finding the back of the net on a corner strike off a nice pass by Tymrak.

Florida outscored the opposition 8-1 in the SEC Tournament, defeating Ole Miss 2-1 on Wednesday and Missouri 3-0 on Friday. Sophomore goalkeeper Taylor Burke was in net all 270 minutes and saved 15 total shots.

The SEC Tournament title is the 10th in the program’s 18-year history but the first for Florida since 2010. The Gators also captured their 12th regular season crown this year, the team’s first since winning five-straight from 2006-10. Becky Burleigh has now led UF to 22 total SEC titles in 36 opportunities since she took over as the program’s first (and only) head coach in 1995.

Florida now awaits word on its seed for the 2012 NCAA Tournament; UF will learn where it is slotted during the selection show airing live on NCAA.com on Monday at 7:30 p.m. The Gators are looking to win the program’s third NCAA Women’s College Cup in school history and first since 2001.

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FOUR BITS: Donovan, Spikes, volleyball, soccer

1 » The Florida Gators announced on Tuesday that head coach Billy Donovan’s son of the same name has decided to transfer to Florida and walk on to the team to play for and learn from his father. Billy Donovan , who spent his last two years playing for the Catholic Cardinals (Division III) in Washington, D.C., has already joined the team and will don the No. 42 though fans will not see him on the court this year as he will be forced to ride the bench during games due to NCAA transfer rules. As was noted a year ago when Catholic traveled to Gainesville, FL to play the Gators in an exhibition game, the younger Donovan originally chose to attend that university in order to further his passion for politics. A change of career path – he is now interested in a coaching or administrative role in a basketball organization – led him right back to where he grew up. “I never wanted it to be like I was telling him what to do career-wise,” Donovan told UF’s GatorZone.com. “I think he needs to figure that out on his own. My job, my wife’s job, is to be supportive and help put him in the best situation for him to pursue what he wants to pursue.” There is probably no better spot for the younger Donovan to learn how to coach or run a basketball team than under the wing of a future hall of fame coach.

2 » New England Patriots linebacker Brandon Spikes received some bad news on Friday when he learned that the NFL decided to fine him $21,000 for an illegal blindside block he threw in a game on Sept. 30. Spikes, who leveled Buffalo tight end Scott Chandler during an interception return for his team, told the team’s website earlier in the week that he did not believe that he did anything wrong. “A lot of guys, they know the new rules. I don’t think I’ve done anything illegal,” he said. “I’ve tried to keep it legal, but I just want to kind of try to make a point – when I hit a guy, I want him [to say], ‘Oh, that was Spikes that hit me. I know that already.”

3 » No. 11 Florida volleyball (13-2, 7-0 SEC) has been on a roll as of late, wrapping up their ninth- and 10th-straight regular season wins over the weekend while hosting a pair of Southeastern Conference opponents in Gainesville. UF registered a 3-0 sweep (25-23, 25-18, 25-15) the Arkansas Razorbacks (13-4, 4-2 SEC) on Friday before coming from two sets down to win 3-2 (22-25, 20-25, 25-22, 25-22, 15-8) against the Kentucky Wildcats (10-7, 4-3 SEC) on Sunday. Freshman outside hitter Ziva Recek of Slovenia was named the SEC Offensive Player of the Week on Monday for her efforts over the weekend. She registered a total of 32 kills and 14 digs combined over the two matches. Impressive in her own right was junior middle back Chloe Mann, who notched a combined 22 kills and 30.0 points on the weekend.

4 » No. 12 Gators soccer (10-3-1, 7-1 SEC) is on a roll of their own, shaking off early season disappointment to rebound with a seven-match winning streak including two big road victories over the last weekend. Florida won 2-0 over the LSU Tigers (5-5-4, 1-4-2 SEC) on Friday before, like volleyball, coming back from a deficit to take down the No. 5 Texas A&M Aggies (12-2-1, 6-1-1 SEC) 2-1 on Sunday. Four different players scored goals for the Gators over the weekend with senior midfielder/forward Erika Tymrak and sophomore MF Havana Solaun finding the back of the net on Friday and senior defender Jo Dragotta and junior F Adriana Leon scoring on Sunday. Tymrak, who garnered SEC Offensive Player of the Week honors on Monday, also notched an assist on Leon’s game-winning goal.

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FOUR BITS: soccer, volleyball, Raymond, Starks

1 » Coming off a terrific weekend where they managed a draw and victory over a pair of ranked opponents, No. 22 Florida Gators soccer was feeling the momentum heading into a showdown with the No. 1 Florida State Seminoles on Friday. FSU (3-0) put that sense to rest quickly, scoring 10 minutes into the match via a header off a throw-in and holding off Florida for the remainder of the contest (despite UF finding a number of scoring opportunities) to earn a hard-fought 1-0 victory. The Gators got a measure of revenge Sunday by dominating the Florida International Panthers in their first home match in more than two weeks. Florida (2-2-1) won 3-0 over FIU (2-2) thanks to a pair of goals from sophomore midfielder Havana Solaun (13’, 58’) and another from redshirt senior forward McKenzie Barney at 27’. UF has a light weekend ahead, hosting New Mexico on Sunday at 1 p.m. before beginning their league slate next week.

2 » No. 18 Gators volleyball also faced some stiff competition over the weekend while up in University Park, PA competing in the Nike Big Four Classic. Florida (3-2) was swept 3-0 by the No. 2 Texas Longhorns (5-0) on Friday and fell 3-1 to the No. 9 Stanford Cardinal (3-2) on Saturday. Freshman outside hitter Ziva Recek stood out in a big way against Texas, recording 22 kills which “marks the best 3-set hitting performance by a freshman in Florida history and ties her for third-best in a 3-set match in program history,” according to the school. She continued her dominance on Saturday with 15 more kills in the four-set match. Junior middle back Chloe Mann combined for 29 kills over the two games. UF will now remain home for its next four matches as it plays the Slovenian Junior National Team in an exhibition game Monday before hosting the Active Ankle Challenge (in which they will play three games) from Sept. 7-8.

3 » Coming off an Olympic bronze medal in mixed doubles, former Gators tennis star Lisa Raymond hoped to keep the magic going while competing in the US Open, the major in which she has found the most career success, over the weekend. Unfortunately Raymond, as part of the No. 2-ranked mixed doubles pairing with fellow American Mike Bryan, fell to Brazil in first-round action and was eliminated from the tournament. She and partner Liezel Huber, the No. 1-ranked women’s doubles duo in the world, did advance to the third round of that tournament but lost to the No. 16-ranked team from Spain 6-4, 2-6, 6-4. Raymond has won 13 career grand slam titles, five of which (three women’s doubles, two mixed doubles) have come at the US Open.

4 » Former Florida offensive lineman Max Starks, coming off a pair of injuries in as many seasons, has twice now been tossed to the scrap heap by the Pittsburgh Steelers only to be brought back as a major contributor. After signing a four-year, $26.3 million contract in the 2009 offseason, Starks was cut in July of 2011 after neck problems and weight issues gave the team cause for concern. Pittsburgh wound up re-signing him after injuries plagued their offensive line, and Starks started at left tackle for the rest of the season. He then tore his anterior cruciate in the Steelers’ playoff loss and did not have his one-year contract renewed. However, just like last season, Pittsburgh brought him back (this time in July) on a one-year deal. The team announced this weekend that Starks will be their starting left tackle on opening day. “There was no way I was thinking when I get healthy they’ll re-sign me,” Starks told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. “I wanted to get healthy and figured teams will be out there, and, if I have to wait through training camp and into the season like last year, I’ll do that, prepare for that. It just so happens, there was an opportunity to come back. It was a blessing.”

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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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SIX BITS: football, Iverson, Haden, soccer

1 » Florida Gators football held its first fall scrimmage on Saturday at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium and head coach Will Muscahmp told the school’s website that he came away impressed citing how “crisp” it was from a procedural standpoint. Following the scrimmage the team was uprooted from its dorms and apartments and moved into a local hotel, according to GatorZone.com, where they will live for a full week. “It’s training camp,” Muschamp said. “That’s what you do. You bond with your teammates, you find out a lot about guys on the team you’ve never known and their backgrounds. You spend a lot of time together. I think it’s a very important part of the growing experience that you have as a player here.” A number of football players also tweeted early Saturday evening that the team was together on a field trip to go see The Dark Knight Rises.

2 » Could head coach Billy Donovan be ready to add a fourth and likely final member to his stellar 2013 recruiting class? According to SNY.tv’s Adam Zagoria, four-star small forward Kuran Iverson (Waynesboro, VA), ranked No. 25 overall nationally by Rivals, may be close to pulling the trigger for the Gators. “Florida’s showing me a lot of love. I think that might be the best choice,” he told SNY on Saturday night. Iverson’s final four also includes Connecticut, Memphis and Syracuse though it will likely be a UF-UConn battle for his services. “I talk to Billy Donovan and the rest of the assistant coaches all the time,” Iverson told Zagoria. “They call me like every day. They say I play my position. The three, I play two sometimes, and the one.”

3 » A stunning report this week that Cleveland Browns cornerback Joe Haden tested positive for Adderall (a drug prescribed to treat attention deficit disorder) and could face a four-game NFL suspension became a bit more clear on Saturday when Pro Football Talk reported via a league source that Haden apparently took the medication “as a ‘pick-me-up’ during an offseason visit to Las Vegas” and was simply unlucky with the timing of the random drug test. PFT does note, however, that Haden has not yet had the opportunity to file an appeal and could avoid missing time this season because “the NFL’s in-house appeals often require months to be processed.”

4 » Haden, who refused to get into detail about the subject, told The Chronicle-Telegram on Thursday that he is someone of high-character and that he hopes his fans do not alter their opinion of him based on this incident. “Everybody knows who I am,” he said. “Honestly, my friends and my family, they know exactly who I am. All the Haden Nation supporters, they know who I am, and you can’t put up a front. So I’m just going to just keep balling, keep looking forward to the next game and keep doing my thing.”

5 » Former Gators point guard Taurean Green and defensive lineman Terron Sanders were two of seven student-athletes to receive degrees this summer, the school announced on Friday. Green (who has been playing professionally overseas since 2008) and Sanders (who is no longer attempting to play professional football) both came back to school to take classes and earn their diplomas.

6 » Taking part in a 105-minute friendly against the No. 12 Central Florida Knights in Orlando, FL on Saturday evening, No. 21 Florida Gators soccer came away with a 2-0 victory and some momentum heading into the 2012 season. Sophomore goalkeeper Taylor Burke made just one save in her shutout performance while sophomore midfielder Havana Solaun (36’) and senior MF/forward Erika Tymrak (56’) scored a goal each in the match.

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