No. 1 Florida Gators men’s track & field captures third-straight NCAA Indoor Championship

No. 1 Florida Gators men’s track & field made history on Saturday by winning their third-straight national title at the 2012 NCAA Indoor Championships at Jacksons Indoor Track in Nampa, ID.

Florida posted 52 team points for the second-straight year to defeat the remaining top four including Arkansas (47), Arizona (41), Arizona State (31) and LSU (27).

With the victory, UF Mike Holloway became the third head coach in NCAA history to lead his team to at least three-straight men’s track & field titles, joining Arkansas’ John McDonnell and UTEP’s Ted Banks.

Leading the way for the Gators were individual national championship performances by juniors sprinter Jeff Demps and jumper Omar Craddock.

Demps won the 60-meter dash for the third-straight season with a time of 6.56 seconds, 0.04 seconds slower than the 6.52-second time that he achieved in the preliminaries on Friday. Demps’ 6.52-second run was not only a personal best but also a school record and collegiate-leading time. He posted four of the top five collegiate times in 2012 and became the first three-time champion in the event since Pittsburgh’s lee McCray won the 55-meter dash in 1986-88. Demps remains the only Florida athlete to ever win the event.

Craddock captured the triple jump with a personal-best distance of 16.75m/54-11.50, making it four years in a row that an athlete representing the Gators won the event (Christian Taylor, Will Claye).

Senior heptathlete Gray Horn was also in the process of winning an individual national title for Florida when he went down with an injury and was forced to withdraw from the men’s heptathalon. At the time of his withdrawal, Horn was up 18 points on his fellow competitors with two events to go.

Though the indoor season is now over for the Gators, the 2012 outdoor track and field season begins next Saturday with the UCF Black and Gold Challenge on March 17.

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SIX BITS: Noah, baseball, Demps, Speights, Brewer

1 » Chicago Bulls center Joakim Noah registered his first career triple-double (13 points, 13 rebounds, 10 assists) on Wednesday in just three quarters of action (and 30 total minutes) against Milwaukee. Noah’s 10 dimes were a career-high and he became the first Chicago center to achieve a triple-double since Artis Gilmore did so in 1977. After a slow start to the year, Noah is averaging almost a double-double per game this season with 9.4 points and 9.8 boards.

2 » No. 1 Florida Gators baseball (4-1) shut out the No. 19 Central Florida Knights (3-0) on Wednesday for the first time since 1977, outscoring their visitors 8-0 as sophomore right-handed pitcher Jonathon Crawford (1-1) picked up his first victory of the season. Crawford (2 H, 3 BB, 4 K) pitched 4.1 no-hit innings before being pulled after five scoreless frames. Sophomore left-hander Daniel Gibson (2.0 IP, H), freshman LHP Bobby Poyner (1.0 IP, H) and freshman RHP Ryan Harris (1.0 IP, 2 H, BB, 2 K) finished out the game on the hill. Florida scored in each of the first three innings and five of the eight frames they went to the plate. Senior center fielder Daniel Pigott hit a solo shot in the first and finished 2/3 with two RBIs, two runs and a pair of walks. The Gators rallied for three runs in the bottom of the third, and senior right fielder Preston Tucker (2/4, RBI, BB) led off a two-run fifth with a solo homer of his own. Tucker’s dinger tied him with former UF All-American Brad Wilkerson (1996-98) for the school’s career RBI record of 214. Florida added another in the seventh and cruised to victory. UF will not get much rest as a series against William & Mary begins on Friday at 7 p.m. with game two and three set for Saturday at 4 p.m. and Sunday at 1 p.m., respectively.

3 » Deciding to run track instead of compete for a spot on a NFL roster may be a tough choice for some, but former running back Jeff Demps knows what he is doing. In a feature on Yahoo! Sports’ ThePostGame, Demps and head track coach Mike Holloway discuss his future in the sport. “At the bottom of my heart, I just love running,” Demps said. “He can become one of the best,” Holloway added. “Jeff believes that or we wouldn’t be doing this.” Holloway, who will also be an assistant coach on the U.S. Men’s National Team in the 2012 London Olympics, believes that Demps can go all the way in the sport. “He has that potential down the road. There’s no doubt about that,” Holloway said of Demps potentially medaling at the Olympics. “It’s just a matter of us getting the proper training model and getting the proper steps taken to keep him healthy.”

4 » Atlanta Hawks forward Al Horford was named the 2012 Sportsperson of the Year by the Atlanta Sports Council on Monday for making a positive impact on sports in the local community. “Playing for the Atlanta Hawks is an honor and has afforded me the opportunity to make an impact on organizations and causes in the Atlanta community that I am extremely passionate about,” Horford said in a statement. “I am committed to these efforts and the individuals that they serve, and I thank the Atlanta Sports Council for recognizing my involvement and dedication.” Horford played in the first 11 games of the 2011-12 season before suffering a torn labrum, which will keep him out of action until the end of April at the earliest.

5 » Memphis Grizzlies F/C Marreese Speights has been on quite a tear recently and is fitting in nicely with his new team. Starting in 26 of the 28 games he has played for Memphis this season, Speights is playing a career-high 23.0 minutes and averaging career-highs in points (8.6), rebounds (6.5) and free throw percentage (.816). He has scored double-digit points in five-straight games and had back-to-back double-doubles on Feb. 15 (20 points, 18 boards) and Feb. 17 (12 points, 10 boards). “It’s been one of the best moves of my life,” he said of getting traded to Memphis, according to the Philadelphia Enquirer. “It’s been great. We have a good team and we’re winning. They gave me a chance to come over here and play and show the things that I can do.”

6 » In a similar boat as Speights, it seems all Denver Nuggets F Corey Brewer needed was a change of scenery. Since returning to Denver after taking a sabbatical due to the death of his father, Brewer has scored double-digit points in five of seven games (he posted nine points in the other two). He’s been a bright spot for the Nuggets this season and may have finally found a comfortable home after moving from Minnesota to New York and then to Dallas one year ago. He is averaging 9.4 points (a career-high for minutes played) and shooting a career-best 36.0 percent from beyond the arc while grabbing 3.3 rebounds and 1.3 steals per game.

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SIX BITS: Quinn, Tebow, Crowder, Demps, Green’s new team, Brewer’s dad, Wambach’s idea

1 » According to The Gainesville Sun’s Pat Dooley, Florida Gators defensive coordinator Dan Quinn interviewed for but turned down the same position with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Quinn, who has been at Florida for just one season, was a NFL assistant with four different teams from 2001-10.

2 » The 2011-12 season may now be in the books but that does not mean Denver Broncos quarterback Tim Tebow‘s name is out of the news. Tebow, who sat down for a 30-minute interview with ESPN’s Hannah Storm last week, will be featured on ESPN2 in “SportsCenter Special: Face to Face with Tim Tebow” on Tuesday, Feb. 7 at 10:30 p.m. Tebow’s recent ESPN rounds included an interview with Scott Van Pelt and Ryen Russillo, which you can view below.

Four more BITS on Crowder, Demps, the Oh Fours and Wambach after the break!
Continue Reading » SIX BITS: Quinn, Tebow, Crowder, Demps, Green’s new team, Brewer’s dad, Wambach’s idea

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Demps chooses different path, will go pro in track

Senior running back Jeff Demps almost decided not to return to the Florida Gators football team for his fourth and final season of eligibility. Also a track and field star at Florida, he had an opportunity to turn pro and was weighing a decision to sign a lucrative offer from Nike or come back and play football for one more year.

Demps had made his decision days earlier, but head coach Will Muschamp officially announced on July 26 that one of the team’s most explosive players would come back to play and report with the rest of the squad at the beginning of August.

“When I came to Florida I wanted to compete at a very high level in both sports and I’ve done that,” Demps said in a school release at the time. “Football has been my first love but I also love running track. All of my coaches have been supportive and I’ve always been able to concentrate on whatever sport I’m competing in during that season. I concentrated on track this past spring and summer and I’m now ready to concentrate on football. I’m looking forward to getting back together with my football teammates and having a great senior season.”

After suffering through injuries in 2010 that saw him gain career-lows in yards, rushing average and touchdowns, he hoped to regain his primary role in 2011 under a new regime. Instead, a healthy Demps took somewhat of a backseat to redshirt senior RB Chris Rainey and got just six more carries than he did in his injury-plagued season, running for 569 yards while finding the end zone six times.

On Thursday, the University of Florida announced that Demps has decided to forego the 2012 NFL Draft and rejoin the Gators track and field program as he attempts to earn a spot with the United States in the 2012 London Olympics.

“Once I got done with the Gator Bowl, I kind of already had my mind made up, it was just when was I going to tell everyone,” Demps said Thursday in the release. “I enjoy track and it’s something I love to do. When I’m out here, I’m enjoying myself and having fun with the guys. I wanted to come back and run. It’s somewhat of an individual sport, but it’s also a team sport. You win championships as a team.”

A four-time national champion, Demps has the 60 meters indoors and 100 meters outdoors for Florida. He has won back-to-back titles in the former event for the Gators, helping lead Florida to consecutive national championships in the NCAA Indoors.

Gators track and field coach Mike Holloway, who was named in Feb. 2011 as an assistant for the sprinters and hurdlers on the U.S. Olympic Team, is excited to have one of his best athletes back in the fold.

“The biggest thing for me – and Jeff and I have talked about this a lot since last summer – I just wanted Jeff to be happy,” Holloway said. “Jeff has never really been a full-time track guy. He has always been a guy that played football and ran track. For him to have accomplished the things he has accomplished is phenomenal. I’m ecstatic. Obviously it’s big for our program. Jeff brings a different kind of energy to the track. When the other guys see him out there working as hard as he does, it gets them to step their game up a bit. We are a big family out here and he’s a member of the family.”

While Rainey, redshirt senior defensive tackle Jaye Howard, redshirt senior quarterback John Brantley and other players will pursue professional football careers this year, Demps said that track was “always something in the back of my mind” but that he wanted to be there for Florida football and his teammates during the program’s transition period.

Now he will have a chance to shine at what many believe he is the best at – running straight ahead as fast as possible. And when the Olympics are over, whether or not Demps brings home a medal, his playing experience with the Gators could always afford him an opportunity at one day playing in the NFL.

Photo Credit: Jim Burgess

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FOUR BITS: Tebow fulfills a wish, signed book special offer, Vogelbach gone?, Tucker back

1 » Former Florida Gators now Denver Broncos quarterback Tim Tebow is one of a handful of athletes who recently participated in ESPN’s collaboration with the Make-A-Wish Foundation titled My Wish. These segments, which will air on SportsCenter, feature athletes fulfilling the wishes of ill children by meeting them, hanging out and sometimes participating in an activity. Tebow’s segment, in which he meets up with 16-year-old Adam Hubbs (“who suffers from a rare immunodeficiency disorder known as MonoMac”) will air on Tuesday at 6 p.m. Below is a preview of Tebow’s segment:

2 » Speaking of Tebow, HarperCollins, the publishers of his memoir Through My Eyes, got in touch with OGGOA to make you all aware that there is currently a contest being run in which 10 lucky fans can enter to win a limited edition signed copy of Tebow’s book. All you have to do is click here and enter your e-mail address! Head over and let us know if you are one of the lucky winners. Contest concludes July 20.

3 » According to the Chicago Tribune, the Chicago Cubs are making a push to pluck first baseman Daniel Vogelbach from the Gators. A second-round pick by Chicago in the 2011 MLB Draft, Vogelbach has already signed with Florida to play college baseball next year should he not work out a professional contract. However, the Tribune reports that the team’s scouting director “normally likes ultra-athletic players, but he fell in love with the 5-foot-11, 240-pounder’s big-time power and was impressed that he dropped about 40 pounds from his junior to senior year.” The Cubs may end up paying Vogelbach nearly $1 million more than recommended for a player drafted at his position in the second round.

4 » Former Gators six-time All-American and four-time Southeastern Conference track champion Erin Tucker (1994-99) has been hired by the University of Florida as an assistant under head coach Mike Holloway. “It’s kind of surreal,” Tucker said in a school release. “When I was at Florida in 1994 it was definitely not the team that it is now. During my time working with athletes at other schools I have seen the program grow and I’d like to think that I had a little something to do with that as an athlete in terms of the ideas that we left when we were done running and helped set the foundation. It is like a dream come true, but I’m hesitant to say that because I know that ‘once a Gator, always a Gator’ and I’ve never not been a Gator. It feels really good to come home again and do what I love.”

Extra BIT » Four members of Florida’s impressive 2011 softball recruiting class will be participating in the Under Armour All-American Game this weekend in Orlando, FL. Pitchers Alyssa Bache and Lauren Haeger will be joined by third baseman Bailey Castro and infielder Jessica Damico as four of 30 players invited to the game.

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SIX BITS: awards, softball, lacrosse, gymnastics

1 » Florida Gators track and field head coach Mike Holloway was honored with the U.S. Track and Field and Cross Country Coaches Association’s National Men’s Indoor Head Coach of the Year award on Friday for the second-straight year. Holloway, who has led Florida to back-to-back NCAA Indoor Championships over the last two seasons, continues to rack up the national and regional awards. One of his assistants on the men’s team, Dick Booth was awarded National Men’s Indoor Assistant Coach of the Year by the USTFCCCA as well.

2 » The state of Mississippi was no match for No. 2/3 Florida softball (30-1, 6-0 SEC) this week as the Gators took down the Mississippi State Bulldogs (12-14, 2-2 SEC) at home in a pair of contests during the week and swept the Ole Miss Rebels (10-21, 0-6 SEC) in a three-game road series over the weekend. Florida outscored Ole Miss 37-6 over the course of the three games and made the most out of nearly every opportunity.

Senior first baseman Megan Bush set a new school record and now has a 19-game hitting streak after turning in a spectacular performance in which she combined to go 6-9 from the plate with 10 RBI, three runs and four walks. On the hill for the Gators all weekend was freshman right-handed pitcher Hannah Rogers (16-1), who started all three contests and did not allow a single earned run all weekend. In 9.0 innings, Rogers only gave up five hits, three unearned runs and three walks while striking out nine batters. Also turning in stellar performances in the three-game set were senior second baseman Aja Paculba (4-10, 6 RBI, 5 R, 4 BB), freshman shortstop Cheyenne Coyle (3-11, 5 RBI, 4 R, BB) and senior left fielder Kelsey Bruder (4-6, 4 RBI, 5 R, 6 BB).

3 » Continuing to excel in only their second year in existence, No. 8/10 Gators lacrosse (8-1) took down another ranked opponent by defeating the No. 11/14 Syracuse Orange (2-4) 16-11 on Saturday at Donald R. Dizney Stadium in Gainesville, FL. Sophomore attacker Ashley Bruns tied her career high (and school record) with six goals; she also notched an assist for a season-high total of seven points. Florida received plenty of scoring help from sophomore midfielders Kitty Cullen and Brittany Dashiell, each of whom contributed hat tricks. Since losing an overtime contest to North Carolina on Feb. 12 to start the regular season, UF is on an impressive eight-game winning streak.

4 » Competing for the 2011 Southeastern Conference Championship, No. 1 Florida gymnastics (17-2, 5-1 SEC) dropped a heart-breaker to the No. 2 Alabama Crimson Tide 197.225-196.975. The Gators won the bars and floor exercises, but the Crimson Tide used greater total margins in the vault and beam to improve their team total and capture the crown. After the event, Florida’s Rhonda Faehn was named 2011 SEC Coach of the Year for the fourth overall and second-straight time, and Alaina Johnson was awarded with 2011 SEC Freshman of the Year.

5 » Failing to qualify for the 2011 NCAA Tournament, Gators women’s basketball (19-14) accepted a bid to the 2011 Women’s National invitation Tournament and defeated the UMBC Retrievers (20-12) 59-47 in first-round action on Friday. Redshirt junior guard Jordan Jones scored a game-high 18 points for Florida, which will ply Florida Gulf Coast (28-3) in the second round on Monday at 7:05 p.m.

6 » No. 13 UF men’s tennis (11-5, 4-1 SEC) dropped a pair of head-to-heads over the weekend as they were defeated by the No. 3 USC Trojans (14-2) 4-3 on Thursday and Rebels (9-4, 3-2 SEC) 4-3 on Saturday. No. 6 senior Alexandre Lacroix lost all four of his events including both singles matches and both doubles matches as the No. 46 duo with teammate sophomore Sekou Bangoura, Jr.

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Gators capture back-to-back NCAA Indoors titles

No. 1 Florida Gators men’s track and field became just the fourth different program in event history to win back-to-back national titles after winning the 2011 NCAA Indoor Championships on Saturday at Gilliam Indoor Track Stadium in College Station, TX.

Florida posted 52 team points to win the 25th overall national championship in school history, defeating the remaining top-five including Texas A&M (40), BYU (34), LSU (31) and Florida State (30).

“This year was special because we came in as big favorites, had some adversity, but we overcame it and we’re national champions again,” head coach Mike Holloway said.

Leading the way for the Gators were individual national championship performances by sophomore sprinter Jeff Demps and junior jumper Will Claye.

Demps won the 60-meter dash for the second consecutive season with a school-record time of 6.53, becoming the first repeat champion in the event since 2004-05. He remains the only Florida athlete to ever win the event.

The Gators had a trio of competitors vying for the triple jump title, but Claye came out on top with a winning mark of 17.32m/56-10. Junior Christian Taylor, the 2011 SEC Men’s Field Athlete of the Year, placed second with a leap of 16.99m/55-9.

Though the indoor season is now over for Florida, the 2011 outdoor track and field season begins next Saturday with the UCF Black and Gold Challenge on March 19.

Photo Credit: University of Florida/GatorZone

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FOUR BITS: Grant on Donovan, track & field

1 » Like his former boss and close friend did for him a few days ago, Alabama Crimson Tide head coach Anthony Grant expressed plenty of positive thoughts and warm wishes toward Florida Gators head coach Billy Donovan upon learning he was voted 2011 Southeastern Conference Coach of the Year. “It’s a great honor – 15 years in the league and the success that he’s enjoyed,” Grant told The Birmingham News. “It’s really, really hard – the expectations were extremely high for his team this year. They may have surpassed those expectations with what they’ve done. […] There is not a more deserving recipient because of the way he approaches what he does and the passion that he has. I’m really happy for him and their program.”

2 » As OGGOA tweeted about Monday, Florida basketball was not the only sport to pull in high praise from the SEC. Gators track and field head coach Mike Holloway was named the 2011 SEC Coach of the Year for his sport on Monday, and junior jumper Christian Taylor earned 2011 SEC Men’s Field Athlete of the Year honors. Also awarded by the conference were hurdler Eddie Lovett and Cory McGee, who were each named 2011 SEC Freshman Runner of the Year for their respective gender.

3 » The 2011 NCAA Indoor Championships begin on Friday at the Gilliam Indoor Track Stadium in College Station, TX, and Florida track and field will be represented by 15 student-athletes (13 men, two women) at the event. The Gators men’s team is looking to defend its title after claiming the 2010 NCAA Indoor Championship. Sophomore sprinter and defending champion Jeff Demps will compete in the 60-meter dash, while defending champion Taylor will try to once again win the triple jump. Junior Will Claye and sophomore Omar Craddock will also compete in the triple jump. Other Florida athletes participating in the NCAA Indoors include Clay (long jump), junior runner Dumisani Hlaselo (mile), junior Gray Horn (heptathlon), Lovett (60-meter hurdles), McGee (mile), sophomore Tony McQuay (200-meter dash, 400-meter dash), senior Kemal Mesic (shot put), senior Terrell Wilks (60-meter dash). The Gators will also field men’s and women’s 4×400-meter relay teams.

4 » Former NFL head coach Mike Ditka, speaking with Chicago Sun-Times, provided his opinion on the future of Denver Broncos quarterback Tim Tebow. Ditka only had good things to convey about the second-year pro. “People talk about the combine, about body fat, 40 times, bench presses, how high you can jump. That’s great, but how do you measure heart?” he said. “People talk about Tim Tebow like he can’t do this or he doesn’t have this throwing skill. But all that matters is can he lead you from Point A to Point B. I like him. You cannot coach character. You cannot coach leadership.”

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