FOUR BITS: swimming, WNIT, softball, lacrosse

1 » The Florida Gators swimming program won its second national title of the season on Friday when the men’s 800 Meter Freestyle Relay team took down the competition at the 2013 NCAA Swimming and Diving Championships in Indianapolis, IN. Freshman Pawel Werner, redshirt junior Sebastien Rousseau, junior Marcin Cieslak and sophomore Dan Wallace swam the race in a school-record time of 6:13.27 to bring home the title for the second time in the last three seasons. A week earlier on March 22, junior Elizabeth Beisel captured the NCAA title in the 400 Meter Individual Medley in 4:00.49. It was her second individual national title (first in the event) as she previously won the 200 Meter Backstroke in 2012. The Gators men’s and women’s swimming programs each finished in sixth place overall.

2 » Florida women’s basketball certainly did not have a successful regular season, but head coach Amanda Butler’s squad has been playing with renewed intensity in the 2013 Women’s NIT and advanced to the Final Four of the event over the weekend with an 85-80 victory over the James Madison Dukes (25-11) in Harrisonburg, VA. The Gators (22-14), which trailed by one with 1:06 to play, jumped ahead on a jumper by freshman guard January Miller with 53 seconds remaining and never lost the lead again. Junior G Jaterra Bonds hit four free throws down the stretch to extend Florida’s lead and help the team move on in the tournament. Freshman forward Sidney Moss led the way for UF with a game-high 27 points, and Bonds added 20 of her own including the game-clinching free throws.

Florida is in the semifinals of a postseason tournament for just the second time in program history (first since 2000) and are two victories away from their first-ever title. The Gators will next take on Drexel on April 3 at 7 p.m. in Philadelphia, PA.

3 » No. 3 Florida softball (35-3, 10-2 SEC) concluded the month of March on Sunday by picking up a road series win over the Ole Miss Rebels (19-21, 1-11 SEC) in Oxford, MS and extending their winning streak to nine games. Junior right-handed pitcher Hannah Rogers (20-2) threw a pair of complete games on Friday and Sunday morning, giving up six hits and one earned run while striking out 11. Rogers also earned her second save of the season in the second half of Sunday’s double-header, pitching three innings in relief of sophomore RHP Alyssa Bache (6-0). The Gators’ hitting was well-rounded throughout the weekend with junior third baseman Stephanie Tofft, senior right fielder Kelsey Horton, sophomore left fielder Brianna Little, freshman first baseman Taylor Schwarz and sophomore second baseman Jessica Damico reach registering at least one multi-RBI outing.

4 » No. 2 Florida lacrosse (13-1, 1-1 ALC) is undefeated no longer as it suffered a tough upset loss at the hands of the No. 9 Penn State Nittany Lions (7-3, 2-0 ALC) while on the road in State College, PA. The Gators fell 16-11 on Saturday as the Nittany Lions battled back from a three-goal first-half deficit to outscore the visitors 10-2 in the second half and pull off the victory. Florida will close out the regular season in April and next takes on Johns Hopkins on April 6 at noon in Gainesville, FL.

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Florida men’s swimming wins first SEC title since 1993; Gators capture eight championships

The No. 2 Florida Gators men’s swimming and diving program entered the 2013 Southeastern Conference Championships on Wednesday looking to get over the hump and take home the title for the first time in 20 years. After leading the pack for the final three days of the event, the Gators finally accomplished that feat on Saturday, taking home the 34th SEC Championship in team history and first since 1993.

Florida (1408.0) beat the Auburn Tigers (1196.0) for the title, snapping a 16-year winning streak and reclaiming the pool after finishing second to Auburn for 11-straight years. The No. 11 Gators women (1190.5) were not as lucky, finishing third behind the Georgia Bulldogs (1420.0) and host Texas A&M Aggies (1296.0).

The men’s and women’s teams combined for eight individual SEC Championships (five and three, respectively). Florida also won four individual awards and earned 21 NCAA “A” time automatic qualifying marks.

2013 SEC Awards (4)
» SEC Men’s Swimming Coach of the Year – Gregg Troy
» SEC Commissioner’s Trophy (High Point Winner, women) – Elizabeth Beisel
» SEC Female Freshman Swimmer of the Year – Natalie Hinds
» SEC Female Freshman Diver of the Year – Cassie Weil

2013 SEC Individual Titles (8)
» Men’s 100-yard butterfly – Marcin Cieslak (46.02s) [back-to-back]
» Men’s 200-yard butterfly – Marcin Cieslak (1:42.17)
» Men’s 200-yard breaststroke – Matt Elliott (1:54.13)
» Men’s 200-yard freestyle – Pawel Werner (1:33.82)
» Men’s 800-yard freestyle relay – Pawel Werner, Sebastien Rousseau, Eduardo Solaeche-Gomez, Marcin Cieslak (6:14.76)
» Women’s 100-yard butterfly – Natalie Hinds (51.70s)
» Women’s 200-yard backstroke – Elizabeth Beisel (1:50.40) [third-straight]
» Women’s 400-yard individual medley – Elizabeth Beisel (3:59.53) [third-straight]

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FOUR BITS: SEC titles, Harvin, Tebow, Zunino

1 » Florida Gators swimmers brought home four league titles on Thursday during the third night of the 2013 SEC Swimming & Diving Championships, which are being held for the first time in College Station, TX. Junior Elizabeth Beisel started off the title wins by capturing the SEC Championship in the women’s 400-meter individual medley for the third-straight year. She broke the four-minute mark at 3:59.53, which is also a personal record and the best time in the nation this season. Also winning a title for the women’s team was freshman Natalie Hinds, who swam the 100-meter butterfly in 51.70 (also the top time in the country this season) to win her first SEC Championship. Junior Marcin Cieslak matched Beisel with his third-straight SEC title in a single event by winning the men’s 100-meter butterfly in 46.02, a season-best mark. Duplicating Hinds’s accomplishment for the men was freshman Pawel Werner, who swam the men’s 200-meter freestyle in 1:33.82 to win the SEC Championship.

At the close of action on Thursday, Florida (748.0 points) led 16-time defending champion Auburn (630.5) by 117.5 points. The Gators men’s team has won the most SEC team championships in league history (33) but has not brought home the top spot since 1993. On the women’s side, Florida (676.0) trails Georgia (790.0) by 114 points. UF’s women’s team has also won the most SEC team titles in league history (17) but has not come in first since 2009; UGA is looking to win its fourth-straight championship. Two days of competition remain with the event concluding Saturday night.

2 » Tracked down by a St. Paul Pioneer Press reporter at his home in Fleming Island, FL, Minnesota Vikings wide receiver Percy Harvin refused comment about his situation with the team. “I’ve got nothing to say about any of that,” he said. At the 2013 NFL Combine on Thursday, Minnesota general manager Rick Spielman reiterated that he has no plans to get rid of Harvin and expects him to be in training camp on time. “We have no intent to trade Percy Harvin,” he said. “Anything related to his contract … will all be kept internally.” This story continues to be interesting.

3 » The New York Jets contingent spoke with the media on Thursday and of course one of the highlights of their media availabilities was everyone tip-toeing around the subject of quarterback Tim Tebow. Head coach Rex Ryan noted that Tebow is “under contract to be a New York Jet, so we’ll see how things go in the offseason. But Tim is under contract.” New general manager John Idzik, who inherited Tebow on his roster, praised the player’s work ethic but did not speak in specifics about whether or not he would be with the team to compete going forward. “My view on Tim Tebow is he is a highly competitive athlete. Everywhere he’s been, he’s been a highly competitive athlete,” he said. “And what we do, we’re going to provide as much competition as we can on a daily basis, at every position, quarterback included, and we’ll see how that rolls out. I would think Tim would be game for that. He’s a competitor.”

4 » New Seattle Mariners catcher Mike Zunino, the No. 3 overall pick in the 2012 MLB Draft, has been competing with his future teammates in Peoria, AZ over the last few days and is looking every bit the player the Mariners hoped. Larry Stone of The Seattle Times caught up with Zunino this week and wrote that the player is quickly winning over other players and manager Eric Wedge. “He’s a complete player, very comfortable in his own skin for a young man,” Wedge said. “You can tell already he has a great respect for the game. You can tell already he’s a student of the game. I’m very impressed with the way he handles himself catching bullpens, just handling a pitching staff early on. Fundamentally, he’s been very impressive both from the offensive and defensive side.” To his credit, Zunino says he is in no rush to get to the majors. But if he continues to play the way he has over his last two college seasons, he will be there soon enough. “I’m going to do the best I can, put my work in every day, and try to be the best player I can be, and the best teammate I can be,” he said. “Eventually, wherever the chips may fall, that’s when I’ll make that next jump.”

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FOUR BITS: Tebow, Bates, Wilkerson, WBK

1 » It is no secret that the Denver Broncos’ quarterback situation received plenty of coverage in 2011. With veteran Kyle Orton, former Florida Gators signal caller Tim Tebow and Brady Quinn all vying for the starting job, things were undoubtedly uncomfortable in Mile High. In the latest issue of GQ, Michael Silver of Yahoo! Sports submitted “An Oral History of Tebow Time” as told by analysts, coaches and players. Quinn was one of a number of players asked to talk about Tebow; he complied and did not hold back when it came to his true opinions. He began by noting that he was the true “second-string guy” on the roster but said Tebow got the nod over him to replace Orton for one reason in particular. “I felt like the fans had a lot to do with that. Just ’cause they were chanting his name,” he said. “There was a big calling for him. No, I didn’t have any billboards. That would have been nice.”

Asked to explain how Tebow and Denver beat Kansas City with him only completing two passes, Quinn gave his explanation, seemingly blaming the opposing defense instead of crediting his team: “The entire game, the defensive line is chasing the quarterback around, and that wears down the pass rush. Meanwhile, the defensive backs are chasing receivers, but you only throw eight passes, so they start to feel lazy. It only takes that one play, that one big pass, for a touchdown.” Quinn later notes the obvious, that the Broncos “had a lot of, I guess, luck, to put it simply” when it came to beating Chicago in Week 14. Just moments later though, he opines about Tebow as a person and offers a not-so-glowing opinion. “If you look at it as a whole, there’s a lot of things that just don’t seem very humble to me,” he said. “When I get that opportunity, I’ll continue to lead not necessarily by trying to get in front of the camera and praying but by praying with my teammates, you know?”

Updated at 4:30 p.m.

Quinn has since released the following statement:

The comments attributed to me in a recent magazine article are in NO WAY reflective of my opinion of Tim and the Broncos. Tim deserves a lot of credit for our success and I’m happy for him and what he accomplished. Most importantly, he is a great teammate. That interview was conducted three months ago, and the resulting story was a completely inaccurate portrayal of my comments. I have addressed my disappointment with the writer and have reached out to Tim to clear this up. I apologize to anyone who feels I was trying to take anything away from our team’s or Tim’s success this season.

2 » Former Florida linebacker James Bates, a defensive captain with the Gators who has recently been working in college sports broadcasting, was recently the victim of a faulty piece of furniture. On hand to cover a college basketball game between Xavier and Dayton for CBS Sports Network, Bates’ stool collapsed live on the air. He was sent falling to the floor but kept a good disposition afterward, as you can see in the video below.

3 » The National College Baseball Hall of Fame announced on Friday that voting is underway for a new class to be selected out of a pool of “69 worthy candidates.” One of those candidates is none other than former Florida All-American hitter and pitcher Brad Wilkerson, a member of the 1996 and 1998 College World Series teams who was also a three-time All-SEC selection and the 1998 Collegiate Player of the Year, was inducted into the University of Florida Athletic Hall of Fame on April 9, 2010. He played for four MLB teams and won a gold medal in the 2000 Sydney Olympics and still holds career records with the Gators for batting average, RBI, slugging percentage and walks.

4 » On Senior Day at the Stephen C. O’Connell Center, Florida women’s basketball (17-10, 7-7 SEC) earned their biggest victory of the season with a 61-57 win over the No. 16/18 Georgia Bulldogs (20-7, 9-5 SEC). Junior forward Jennifer George (15 points, six rebounds) and senior guard Lanita Bartley (11 points, four boards) led the way for the Gators, which rebounded nicely after nearly defeating No. 24 Vanderbilt just a few days earlier UF will play their regular-season finale on Thursday against Mississippi State.

EXTRA BIT » Though Florida failed to prevail at the 2012 SEC Swimming and Diving Championships in Knoxville, TN over the weekend, the Gators did sweep one important category as sophomores Elizabeth Beisel and Marcin Cieslak were named the 2012 SEC Female and Male Swimmer of the Year, respectively. Florida won eight individual SEC titles at the event with Beisel and Marcin each taking home three. The women’s team finished second overall behind Auburn, while the men came in third behind Georgia and Tennessee.

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SIX BITS: awards, softball, lax, swimming, tennis

1 » There are plenty of spring sports underway right now, and the Florida Gators have gotten off to a fast start earning weekly conference honors. For the second-straight week, senior pitcher Stephanie Brombacher (softball) won the SEC Pitcher of the Week award; she tossed three shutouts in the last seven days and has a 0.00 ERA with 35 strikeouts through her first 31 innings of the season. Joining her is sophomore shortstop Nolan Fontana (baseball), who picked up the SEC Player of the Week award after going 9-for-12 and scoring five runs in his team’s season-opening series. Also making an impact was sophomore midfielder Kitty Cullen (lacrosse), who brought home the first ALC Offensive Player of the Week award in school history. She has scored 14 goals in only three games and tied a school record with six on Sunday alone.

2 » Undefeated going into the weekend, No. 5 Florida softball (9-0) completed a shutout sweep of the No. 22 North Carolina Tar Heels (4-4) from Saturday to Sunday. UF took down UNC 3-0 and 9-0 in two games Saturday and concluded their first three-game homestand of the season with a 10-0 win on Sunday at Katie Seashole Pressly Stadium in Gainesville, FL. Brombacher (6-0) tossed seven scoreless innings on Saturday and five more on Sunday, only giving up a total of nine hits and two walks over the contests. Freshman P Hannah Rogers (3-0) spelled her in between, allowing only two hits in her five shutout innings.

The Gators hit four home runs on Saturday alone; senior first baseman Megan Bush (4-7, HR, 6 RBI, 2 BB) and junior center fielder Michelle Moultrie (5-7, HR, 2 RBI) connected in the first game, while senior second baseman Aja Paculba (3-8, 3 RBI) and sophomore right fielder Kelsey Horton (1-5, 3 RBI) teed-off in the second contest. Florida’s scoring Sunday came from all over the place with senior left fielder Kelsey Bruder (2-8, 2 RBI, 4 R) leading the way with a homer, two RBI and three runs scored.

3 » Cullen’s six amazing goals on Sunday helped No. 17 Gators lacrosse (2-1) top the No. 20 Denver Pioneers (0-2) 15-7 at Donald R. Dizney Stadium in Gainesville. Assisting her was sophomore attacker Ashley Bruns who scored three goals and notched a career-high four assists on her way to seven points and a hat trick.

Read the rest of this SIX BITS post…after the break!
Continue Reading » SIX BITS: awards, softball, lax, swimming, tennis

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FOUR BITS: Jones, SEC records, softball, lacrosse

1 » Though he announced his commitment on Monday, four-star 2012 running back recruit Matt Jones (Seffner, FL) solidified it Wednesday night at a news conference at Armwood High School. Donning Florida Gators gear, Jones not only affirmed his commitment but also promised that nothing would change over the next year, before National Signing Day on Feb. 1 (or earlier if he decides to enroll in the spring). “I’m a Gator for life,” Jones said emphatically, according to the St. Petersburg Times. “Any other coaches are not going to get no feedback or stuff like that, only if they’re saying ‘Good luck’ to our players or stuff like that. I’m truly a Gator. […] I truly believe I’ll rock the Gator Nation.” Jones’s coach, Sean Callahan, praised his student-athlete’s early decision, noting that it is as firm as can be. “He understands what a commitment is now,” Callahan said. “We need to bring some honor in recruiting. Matt’s word is good, our word is good and I honestly believe the University of Florida‘s word is good, too.”

2 » Competing in the 2011 Southeastern Conference Swimming Championships at the Stephen C. O’Connell Center in Gainesville, FL on Wednesday, the No. 5 men’s team broke two SEC records while capturing a pair of gold medals in relay races. The foursome of seniors Conor Dwyer, Brett Fraser, Balazs Gercsak and sophomore Sebastien Rousseau were victorious in the 800-yard freestyle relay with a record time of 6:13.74; within that race, Dwyer’s 200-yard freestyle split of 1:31.73 also set a conference mark, one once held by former Gators swimmer Ryan Lochte (2005). Florida’s other event victory was the 200-yard medley relay, which was won in a time of 1:24.94 by Dwyer, Fraser, redshirt sophomore Marco Loughran and freshman Marcin Cieslak. The men’s team is in third place overall after day one, while the No. 8 women’s team holds on to second place (Auburn leads both standings).

3 » No. 5 Florida softball (6-0) continued their hot start to the season with a 7-0 drubbing of the Jacksonville Dolphins (2-3) in their first road game of the year. Senior pitcher Stephanie Brombacher (4-0) tossed five innings of one-hit ball, striking out eight and walking one. Supporting her effort was senior second baseman Aja Paculba, whose grand slam in the fifth inning (the team’s third of the season) solidified the victory. The Gators will face their toughest test of the season over the weekend when they host No. 22 North Carolina for a three-game series including a doubleheader on Saturday.

4 » Also in Jacksonville on Wednesday was No. 17 Florida lacrosse (1-1), which won their first game of the season after suffering a tough overtime loss to No. 3 North Carolina over the weekend. The Gators took down the Dolphins in impressive fashion, 18-9, behind stellar offensive play by sophomore midfielder Kitty Cullen (four goals), junior attacker Caroline Cochran (three goals) and sophomore M Caroline Chesterman (three goals).

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FOUR BITS: Pouncey, Dwyer, Beisel, Debut

1 » Contrary to a bevy of reports stating that he is definitively out for Super Bowl XLV, Pittsburgh Steelers starting rookie center Maurkice Pouncey considers himself probable for the game with a self-described “pretty bad” high ankle sprain. “I hope so. Right now it’s 75/25, and I’m hoping to play,” he told ESPN’s Chris Berman during media day on Tuesday. “I feel great out the cast, man. I’ve been walking around pretty good. Hopefully I’ll get on the bike today and get some pool action in later. It feels pretty good. Everybody’s been pretty positive about me. It’s a nasty little purple color, but it’s getting better. I don’t know why everybody’s trying to rule me out early. Offensive linemen don’t get ruled out until the last day.” If he is able to step on the field, Pouncey will be the only former Florida Gators player to participate in the championship.

2 » With National Signing Day set for Wednesday, some things appear to be getting clearer with the two recruits from Dwyer High School that the Gators have their eyes on. According to the Palm Beach Post’s Matt Porter, Dwyer head coach Jack Daniels “has a good idea” of where four-star linebacker Curt Maggitt (West Palm Beach, FL) is going and believes he will end up choosing Tennessee over Florida. Daniels also expects four-star quarterback Jacoby Brissett (West Palm Beach, FL) to make his declaration at halftime of his high school basketball game on Friday. Brissett is choosing among Florida, Miami, Wisconsin and Washington and is thought to be favoring UM.

3 » For the third-straight year, Florida freshman swimmer Elizabeth Beisel has been named Rhode Island Female Athlete of the Year and will be honored as such at the state’s annual banquet on Feb. 20. Beisel also took home Female Swimmer of the Week honors from the Southeastern Conference on Tuesday. Joining her with recognition are Male Swimmer of the Week senior Conor Dwyer and Freshmen of the Week Hilda Luthersdottir and Marcin Cieslak.

4 » The University of Florida announced Tuesday that the 2011 Orange & Blue Debut spring game will be moved from 1 p.m. to noon in order to air live on Sun Sports on April 9. Last year the game aired live only on UF’s GatorVision; it is unknown if the contest will be broadcast live online as well.

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