FOUR BITS: Hunter, lacrosse, tennis selections

1 » Florida Gators freshman gymnast Kytra Hunter, who won a pair of 2012 NCAA Championships in the all-around and vault last month, was named the recipient of the Honda Sports Award on Wednesday. The honor, which basically makes Hunter the “gymnast of the year” by recognizing her as the best student-athlete in her sport, is awarded to one female in 12 different NCAA-sanctioned sports. It is the second straight year that a Gators student-athlete has won one of the awards with outfielder Kelsey Bruder bringing home the honor for softball in 2011. In the 36-year history of the Honda Sports Award, Florida has won it 15 times in six different sports (UF student-athletes were honored in two sports in 1982).

2 » One of six Florida lacrosse players to be honored by the American Lacrosse Conference on Wednesday, freshman midfielder Nora Barry was named the 2012 ALC Rookie of the Year after registering 32 goals (on 54 shots) in 17 games during the regular season. Barry’s goal total was the fifth-highest on the Gators, but she led the team in ground balls and also finished second in draw controls. Three Florida juniors – attacker Kitty Cullen, M Brittany Dashiell and defender Sam Farrell – were named to the All-ALC First Team, while Barry, junior goalkeeper Mikey Meagher and junior A Gabi Wiegand received second-team nods.

3 » Four members of No. 2 Gators women’s tennis found themselves placed in the brackets for the 2012 NCAA Individual Championships when the selections were announced on Wednesday. Junior Allie Will not only earned the No. 1 seed in the singles tournament but is also one half of the No. 1 doubles team along with sophomore Sofie Oyen. Junior Lauren Embree was placed in the grouping of singles seeds 9-16, Oyen was chosen as an alternate and the pairing of Embree/senior Joanna Mather also made it as an at-large doubles team. Florida has not won a NCAA singles title since 1996 (Jill Craybas) or a doubles title since 2001 (Whitney Laiho/Jessica Lehnhoff).

4 » No. 11 UF men’s tennis also had four players selected for the NCAA Individual Championships as senior Nassim Slilam and juniors Tripper Carleton and Bob van Overbeek all received at-large bids for the singles bracket. (Sophomore Spencer Newman is listed as an alternate.) Additionally, the duo of Slilam/junior Billy Federhofer will compete in the doubles draw. The Gators have not won a NCAA singles title since 1999 (Jeff Morrison) or a doubles title since 1993 (Mark Merklein/David Blair).

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Lauren Embree named SEC Player of the Year; six Gators pick up All-SEC awards

Florida Gators junior women’s tennis player Lauren Embree and six of her teammates were recognized and honored by the Southeastern Conference on Wednesday.

Embree picked up her second SEC Player of the Year award after earning the honor first as a freshman in 2010. Sporting an 18-2 singles record (10-0 SEC) and 20-0 doubles record (11-0 SEC), she is just the second player in school history to win the award twice in her career (Jill Craybas 1995-96). Florida has owned the award over the last three years with Allie Will winning it as a sophomore in 2011.

The Gators also placed four players on the All-SEC First Team including Embree, Will, sophomore Sofie Oyen and senior Joanna Mather (Embree’s doubles partner and a top-three singles performer on the team). Sophomore Alex Cercone and junior Caroline Hitimana rounded out the awards with spots on the All-SEC Second Team.

Florida captured their third-straight SEC regular season crown on April 14 and third-straight SEC Tournament title on April 22. The Gators head into the 2012 NCAA Tournament (May 11-22) on a 16-match winning streak as they look to defend their 2011 national championship.

Photo Credit: Sean Cartell

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Florida women’s tennis takes down Georgia 4-1, wins third-straight SEC Tournament title

No. 3 Florida Gators (21-1) women’s tennis captured the 2012 Southeastern Conference Tournament Championship on Saturday with a 4-1 victory over the No. 7 Georgia Bulldogs (21-4) to bring the title back to Gainesville, FL for the third-straight season and eighth time in the last 11 years.

Competing at the Palmer/Salloum Tennis Center in Oxford, MS, Florida worked hard to clinch the doubles point and take an early advantage. Junior Caroline Hitimana and sophomore Olivia Janowicz lost the first doubles match 8-1, but the No. 1 duo of junior Allie Will/sophomore Sofie Oyen and No. 19 pairing of junior Lauren Embree/senior Joanna Mather each won their respective matches to give UF a 1-0 lead.

No. 23 Mather followed her doubles win with a dominant singles victory (6-4, 6-4), putting the Gators ahead 2-0. The Bulldogs got a point back as Lilly Kimbell defeated sophomore No. 68 Alex Cercone (6-3, 2-6, 6-3) but lost it just as quickly when No. 10 Embree came from behind to finish off No. 7 Chelsey Gullickson (3-6, 6-4, 7-5).

With three matches remaining, UF was looking for one more point to clinch the title while UGA was hoping to win three-straight in a major comeback effort.

Florida would not give Georgia that opportunity as No. 121 Hitimana earned a 7-5, 4-6, 6-4 victory to clinch the win for the Gators.

No. 1 Will led her singles match (6-7, 7-5, 4-2) at the conclusion of the event, and No. 51 Oyen was fighting for a victory in her contest as well (4-6, 7-5, 5-5).

UF women’s tennis has now won 18 SEC Tournament titles and captured the SEC regular season championship 26 times in the team’s history. Florida will make its 30th appearance in the NCAA Tournament on May 11 as the Gators look to defend their national title.

Photo Credit: Sean Cartell

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FOUR BITS: gymnastics, baseball, tennis, softball

1 » No. 1 Florida Gators gymnastics did everything they could during the 2012 NCAA Super Six on Saturday but came just short of earning their first national title as the Alabama Crimson Tide edged Florida 197.850-197.775 to win the 2012 NCAA Championship. One of four teams in 31 years to win the national title, Alabama captured their sixth in school history by a 0.075 margin thanks to a stellar 49.500 effort on the balance beam in the final rotation. The Gators led the Crimson Tide by 0.025 heading into the final rotation; however, Florida posted a 49.400 on the floor exercise, allowing Alabama to leap them and earn the championship. All is not lost for the Gators as UF’s individual gymnasts will compete for event national titles on Sunday. Freshman Kytra Hunter already won the NCAA Championship in the all-around on Friday.

2 » Looking to carry some momentum from the 16-inning marathon win Friday night, No. 1 Florida baseball (30-9, 10-7 SEC) was not as fortunate Saturday night falling 5-3 to the Georgia Bulldogs (24-16, 8-9 SEC) at McKethan Stadium in Gainesville, FL. UF led 2-1 after the first inning thanks to a two-run bomb by senior right fielder Preston Tucker (1/4, HR, 2 RBI, R, SB) but found themselves in a 4-2 hole after UGA rallied for three runs in the top of the third. A solo homer by senior center fielder Daniel Pigott (1/4, HR, RBI, R) cut the Gators’ deficit to a single run in the bottom of the fourth, but Bulldogs’ starter Michael Palazzone and reliever Blake Dieterich combined to no-hit Florida over the final five innings of the game. Georgia’s timely pitching and clutch defense handed the loss to junior left-handed pitcher Brian Johnson (5-2, 7.0 IP, 7 H, 4 ER, 5 K). UF has not swept a weekend series in over a month hopes to pick up a series win in the rubber match on Sunday at 3 p.m. (ESPN2).

3 » No. 1-seed Gators women’s tennis (20-1) swept the No. 4-seed Ole Miss Rebels (17-8) in the semifinals of the 2012 Southeastern Conference Tournament on Saturday, using a 4-0 victory to propel them into the finals on Sunday against No. 3-seed Georgia. Florida captured the doubles point in entertaining fashion having split the first two matches 1-1 before the No. 1 duo of junior Allie Will and sophomore Sofie Oyen earned a 9-8 (7-5) victory. Singles action was a more of a breeze for the Gators with No. 23 senior Joanna Mather (6-3, 6-1), No. 10 junior Lauren Embree (6-2, 6-0) and No. 51 Oyen (3-6, 6-1, 6-0) picking up three wins to end the match. UF, which improved to 25-0 all-time in SEC Tournament quarterfinals action on Friday, is now 23-2 in the semifinals and competing for their 18th conference tournament title.Florida defeated Georgia 4-3 on March 4 in Athens, GA in the teams’ sole meeting this season.

4 » No. 3/4 Gators softball (41-5) completed their sweep of the Florida International Golden Panthers (24-23) with a 7-1 victory on Saturday at Pressly Softball Stadium in Gainesville. Florida and FIU were scoreless through four innings with Gators sophomore right-hander Hannah Rogers (24-3) holding the Golden Panthers hitless for most of the contest. Florida jumped ahead 1-0 in the fifth on a RBI double by sophomore shortstop Cheyenne Coyle (1/3, RBI, BB), but Rogers allowed FIU to even things up in the top of the sixth. Junior RF Ensley Gammel (1/2, HR RBI, R) put the Gators ahead for good in the sixth with a solo homer that spurned a six-run bottom of the inning including two RBIs by freshman third baseman Sami Fagan (2-3, 2 RBI, R, BB) and another solo bomb by freshman left fielder Jessica Damico (1/1, HR, RBI, R). Rogers (7.0 IP, 3 H, R, 3 BB, 7 K) completed the outing and her team’s third-straight weekend series sweep.

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FOUR BITS: Pitino, Brown, SEC awards, Tebow

1 » Former Florida Gators basketball assistant Richard Pitino was named the new head coach for the Florida International Golden Panthers on Monday, signing a five-year, $1.25 million contract. At 29 years old, Pitino becomes one of the youngest head coaches in the country but properly noted that does not mean he is incapable of being successful in his new job. “People say I’m young, but I tell them I may be young, but I’m not inexperienced,” he said. “It may not always be pretty. It may not always be easy. But we’re going to get it done.” Pitino last worked under head coach Billy Donovan two seasons ago, leaving Florida before the 2011-12 campaign to work for his father in Louisville. “It is great to have Richard back in the state of Florida,” Donovan said in a school release. “FIU has hired a tireless worker and an excellent recruiter to build their program. I’m excited for Richard and I’m excited for FIU.” Pitino is the seventh assistant to work under Donovan and eventually be named a head coach joining Anthony Grant (Alabama), Donnie Jones (Central Florida), John Pelphrey (formerly at Arkansas), Lewis Preston (Kennesaw State), Larry Shyatt (Wyoming) and Shaka Smart (VCU).

Pitino on Donovan:: “Working for Billy Donovan was one of the greatest things I could have done. I was an assistant under my father and I really didn’t want to leave home, but Billy reached out to him. When I worked for Billy I learned so much because he wasn’t my father. They have a lot of similarities, but they are really not [the same]. They have completely different approaches on how to do things. For me to work for Billy, who has three Final Fours, and my dad, who has six Final Fours, that’s a combined nine Final Fours and three NCAA Championships. For me to be able to learn under those two guys, I’m the luckiest man in the world.”

2 » One of four players to file a lawsuit against the NFL this week, former Gators offensive tackle Lomas Brown claims – citing the recent bounty scandal surrounding New Orleans – that the league did not properly protect its players from concussions. According to the Associated Press, Brown and the three other players “do not claim in their lawsuit to be victims of [Gregg] Williams’s bounty system but cite it as the latest example of a culture that has left former players with debilitating conditions.”

3 » A pair of current Florida student-athletes – juniors tennis player Lauren Embree and left-handed pitcher/first baseman Brian Johnson – picked up SEC Player of the Week awards from the conference on Monday. The Gators baseball program also got another piece of good news as they regained their No. 1 national ranking in the USA Today/ESPN Coaches Top 25 Poll while receiving nine-of-31 first-place votes.

4 » The Tim Tebow news cycle has not slowed down now that he is no longer in Denver. The latest New York Jets quarterback received a big donation for his charity over the weekend as a married couple pledged $100,000 just to spend a day with him. The auction took place at the Tim Tebow Foundation Celebrity Golf Classic, and Tebow himself was extremely touched at both the bid and donation. “It was very humbling, and you don’t necessarily feel worthy,” he said. “That day I feel like I’ve got to do a few extra things to be special, you know? I’ve got to try to be a little bit better.” Tebow was also the subject of a recent look-a-like contest held by the Double-A Jacksonville Sun. The winner was a Jacksonville, FL high school student named Jacob Carter who said that his grandmother suggested he participate in the event.

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Women’s tennis earns SEC regular season title

No. 2 Florida Gators women’s tennis (18-1, 11-0 SEC) completed a perfect Southeastern Conference slate on Saturday to win the 2012 SEC regular season title outright after defeating the No. 27 South Carolina Gamecocks (14-7, 5-6 SEC) 4-1.

In a rare occurrence, Florida dropped the doubles point as both the No. 1-ranked team of junior Allie Will/sophomore Sofie Oyen and the duo of sophomore Olivia Janowicz/junior Caroline Hitimana both fell. Only the No. 16 team of junior Lauren Embree/senior Joanna Mather was victorious.

However, the Gators made up for it in singles action by winning the first four completed matches before the meeting was suspended. No. 1 Will, No. 10 Embree, No. 21 Mather and No. 73 sophomore Alex Cercone all won in straight sets to clinch the SEC regular season title for Florida.

The Gators will take their 13-match win streak into the 2012 SEC Tournament which begins on April 19 in Oxford, MS. No. 1-seed Florida receives a first-round bye as they hope to win the event for the third-straight season.

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FOUR BITS: Beal, Young, Sampson, Bennett

1 » ESPN Insider’s Chad Ford ranked Florida Gators freshman guard Bradley Beal and sophomore center Patric Young as the No. 1 and No. 2 (respectively) NBA prospects in the West Region of the 2012 NCAA Tournament. Ford noted shooting and athleticism as Beal’s positives but said his struggles from beyond the arc are an obvious negative. He also said that “NBA teams expect him to thrive” in a true NBA lineup and that he could move all the way up from top six to No. 2 overall behind Anthony Davis if he performs at a high level in the tournament. Ford added that “NBA scouts are convinced Young has the potential to be a dominant defensive big man” no matter what he does offensively in college or the NBA. For further details click here (subscription required).

UPDATE: Young reaffirmed Thursday that he plans to remain at UF for 2012-13.

2 » Still looking to add a big man to their 2012 recruiting class, Florida basketball missed out on another this week when four-star power forward Jakarr Sampson (Akron, OH) decided to play for St. John’s next season. Sampson, who was originally committed to SJU before being forced to spend a year in prep school to improve his grades, recommitted to St. John’s on Wednesday over UF, Kansas and Providence. Sampson recently said he was getting prepared to visit the Gators but will no longer make that trip. “They always had my heart,” Sampson told Rivals.com about his new team. “Even when I left my heart was still here. I got to know the coaches, the players and I couldn’t leave them like that because my heart is still with them.”

3 » Florida’s primary focal point in the frontcourt has always been five-star PF Anthony Bennett (Henderson, NV), who has yet to decide what school he will attend. UF, which stands a good chance of landing him, is in his top five along with Kentucky, UNLV, Washington and Oregon. “The coaching staff is really cool,” he told Rivals of the Gators in January. “My mom likes them a lot and they say that they will develop me into a three/four type player. Also, if Patric Young doesn’t go pro, I would be able to practice every day against one of the best big men in the country.”

4 » No. 2 Florida women’s tennis and No. 5/6 lacrosse were both victorious in a pair of mid-week matches in Gainesville, FL on Wednesday. Gators tennis (10-1) earned a shutout 5-0 win over the No. 5 Duke Blue Devils (11-1) while Florida lacrosse (7-2) gained a dominant 17-4 victory over the Stony Brook Seawolves (5-2). Weather ended the tennis match early, good news for junior No. 1 Allie Will who was down one set and losing in the second to No. 2 Beatrice Capra. Junior No. 14 Lauren Embree, senior No. 19 Joanna Mather and sophomore No. 39 Sofie Oyen won their singles matches as No. 3 Will/Oyen and No. 11 Embree/Mather also picked up doubles victories. Across campus junior attacker Caroline Chesterman led the way for the Gators by netting all five of her shots for goals. Midfielders junior Brittany Dashiell and freshman Nora Barry each scored two goals, and junior As Kitty Cullen and Gabi Wiegand added two apiece. Janine Hillier, who transferred was Florida’s fourth-leading scoreer a year ago but transferred in the offseason, did not score for Stony Brook.

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FOUR BITS: baseball, tennis, Young, softball

1 » No. 1 Florida Gators baseball improved to 13-1 this season by defeating the Florida Gulf Coast Eagles (6-5) Friday night in the first of a three-game weekend series. FGCU right-hander Ricky Knapp held Florida in check through five innings, giving the Eagles a 2-0 cushion thanks to a two-run homer by catcher Andrew Valencia in the top of the fourth inning. Junior RHP Hudson Randall (7.1 IP, 6 H, 2 ER, 6 K) got the start for the Gators and held on just long enough ensure he did not suffer a loss as junior C Mike Zunino knotted the game with a two-run bomb of his own in the bottom of the sixth. Zunino doubled up with another two-run homer in the eighth, knocking in all four of Florida’s runs on the evening and earning a win for junior left-handed pitcher Steven Rodriguez (3-0, 0.2 IP, K). Junior closer Austin Maddox grabbed his fourth save of the season, striking out three of four batters in the final frame.

2 » No. 2 Gators women’s tennis (9-1, 3-0 SEC) won the team’s 100th consecutive home match at Linder Stadium at Ring Tennis Complex on Friday night, defeateing the No. 22 Vanderbilt Commodores (10-5, 2-1 SEC) 6-1. Florida, which holds the longest active home winning streak for a NCAA Division I women’s sports program, has not fallen on their home court since 2004. The No. 13 pairing of junior Allie Will and sophomore Sofie Oyen and the No. 31 duo of junior Lauren Embree and senior Joanna Mather each won their matches to earn the doubles point for the Gators. Florida also won five of six singles matches with No. 1 Wil, No. 18 Mather, No. 23 Embree, No. 39 Oyen and junior Caroline Hitimana pulling out victories while No. 49 sophomore Alex Cercone fell in a match that lasted over two hours. No. 9 Gators men’s tennis (9-4, 2-1 SEC) also beat the Commodores (5-7, 0-3 SEC) 6-1 on the road in Nashville, TN.

3 » Florida sophomore center Patric Young said after Friday’s game against Alabama that he will return for his junior season in orange and blue, according to a conversation he had with Matt Watts, the sports editor of The Independent Florida Alligator. Young, however, told Watts that he was not sure what freshman guard Bradley Beal planned to do about his future. Beal is currently projected by many analysts as a potential top-10 pick in the 2012 NBA Draft even though his shooting numbers have been suspect for the Gators this season.

4 » No. 3 Gators softball (21-2, 2-1 SEC) dropped their second game of the season on Friday, falling 1-0 to the No. 9 Tennessee Lady Vols (15-3, 1-0 SEC) due to a defensive miscue in the bottom of the seventh inning. Sophomore RHP Hannah Rogers (11-1, 6.2 IP, 5 H, R, 2 BB, 4 K) was tagged for her first loss of the season as Tennessee’s Ellen Renfroe outdueled her, only allowing three hits and one walk while striking out 15 Florida batters. The Gators will look for revenge against the Lady Vols and hope to win the series with back-to-back victories on Saturday on Sunday.

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