Volleyball tops Illinois 3-2, advances to Elite Eight

By Eden Otero – OnlyGators.com Contributor

No. 8 Florida Gators volleyball earned a hard-fought 3-2 win over the No. 9 Illinois Illini on Friday evening in the Sweet 16 of the 2014 NCAA Tournament, advancing to the Elite Eight for the first time since 2011.

Florida (28-3) led early but eventually fell behind and was forced to come back from one set down to take down Illinois (26-8) in Ames, Iowa.

OnlyGators.com breaks down the victory with five quick-hitters.

It was over when: After blowing consecutive match points and finding itself even with Illinois at 14-14 in the fifth and final set, Florida won back-to-back points to clinch the come-from-behind victory. A quick block by sophomore middle blocker Shainah Joseph, followed by a solid set from junior Mackenzie Dagostino led to a match-winning spike by sophomore Alex Holston, allowing eight-seed UF to pull out the hard-fought win.

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Florida volleyball rolling as it enters Sweet 16

By Eden Otero – OnlyGators.com Contributor

No. 8 Florida Gators volleyball (27-3, 18-0 SEC) has rolled through the 2014 season and found plenty of success, including the 2014 Southeastern Conference Championship. As Florida approaches the Sweet 16 of the 2014 NCAA Tournament and a showdown with the No. 9 Illinois Illini (26-7) on Friday, let’s take a look back at the ups and downs of Gators volleyball this season.

Non-conference play: Head coach Mary Wise set up a purposely tough non-conference schedule to her team prepare for the rigors of the NCAA Tournament. Before league play began, four of the nine opponents the Gators faced were top-20 teams, including USC, San Diego, Texas and Florida State. UF swept both USC and San Diego but lost in five and four sets, respectively, to Florida State and Texas. Wise said that Florida ultimately benefited from the tough slate as the players were given the chance to learn from their mistakes, which hopefully would not be repeated when in the tournament.

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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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Florida Gators basketball’s 2014-15 schedule

Florida Gators basketball’s 2014-15 schedule was officially announced on Friday when the Southeastern Conference released its full league schedule for next season.

The Gators will face at least four (but up to six) opponents who took part in the 2014 NCAA Tournament while participating in special non-conference events including the Battle 4 Atlantis tournament in Paradise Island, Bahamas, SEC/Big 12 Challenge and Orange Bowl Basketball Classic in Sunrise, Florida.

Florida will face Georgetown in its opening Battle 4 Atlantis game. Other potential opponents over the final two rounds include Butler, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Wisconsin, UAB and UCLA.

UF also takes on Kansas in an SEC/Big 12 Challenge rematch in Lawrence, Kansas. Last season, the Gators took down the Jayhawks 67-61 in Gainesville.

Florida meets Wake Forest in the Orange Bowl Basketball Classic and links up again with UConn in non-conference action for the third time in the last two seasons.

The Huskies were one of two teams to beat the Gators during the 2013-14 season, winning 65-64 on a buzzer beater in Stoors, Connecticut, on Dec. 2 and 63-53 during the Final Four in Arlington, Texas. This year, UConn travels to Gainesville.

In-state rivalry games at home against Miami (Nov. 17) and on the road at Florida State (Dec. 30) also highlight UF’s non-conference slate.

The Gators open their 18-game SEC schedule on the road at South Carolina before playing consecutive home games against Mississippi State and Auburn. Florida plays its permanent rival, Kentucky, twice this season but will also take on LSU, Ole Miss, Texas A&M and Vanderbilt in home-and-away games.

The Gators and Wildcats will meet twice on Saturday; the first game could wind up hosting ESPN College GameDay, while the second is the regular-season finale for both teams.

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ESPN Forecast names Florida Gators head coach Billy Donovan the best in college basketball

An ESPN-commissioned 45-member panel “that collectively possess[es] vast college basketball experience, knowledge and perspective” has spent the last five weeks breaking down the top 50 college basketball coaches in the country. On Thursday, the panel known as ESPN Forecast listed Florida Gators head coach Billy Donovan as its No. 1 coach in the nation.

Though Eamonn Brennan, writing on behalf of the panel’s decision, does not state exactly why Donovan edged out the rest of the group in a head-to-head comparison – the remainder of the top five included Kentucky’s John Calipari, Michigan State’s Tom Izzo, Duke’s Mike Krzyzewski and Louisville’s Rick Pitino – a compelling case is made for how successful Donovan has been at Florida over the last five seasons.

Even though the departure of the Oh Fours and an about-face decision about leaving the Gators for the NBA were part of the reason the program missed back-to-back NCAA Tournaments in 2008 and 2009, UF has bounced back in a major way.

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Hannah Rogers named SEC Athlete of the Year

Florida Gators senior right-handed pitcher Hannah Rogers capped her stellar collegiate career with the top honor awarded by the Southeastern Conference after being named the league’s 2014 Female Athlete of the Year on Tuesday.

Rogers becomes the seventh Florida student-athlete to earn the honor, which has been given to Gators 10 total times with Tim Tebow (2008-09), Danny Wuerffel (1996-97) and Nicole Haislett (1993-94) each doubling up. Ryan Lochte (2005), Dara Torres (1988) and Tracy Caulkins (1984) have also received the award.

The first Florida female in 20 years to be named SEC Athlete of the Year, Rogers is also the first non-swimmer to earn the honor (Haislett, Torres, Caulkins).

She compiled a 30-8 record and 1.60 ERA during the 2014 season, tossing 27 complete games in a team-high 223.1 innings. Rogers also posted a 2.7 K/BB ratio and only allowed opposing batters to hit .197.

Her dominance reached new heights in the postseason when he ran through the 2014 NCAA Tournament with a 7-0 record and 0.64 ERA.

She went 4-0 in the Women’s College World Series and earned a save in the final game of the Championship Series, earning Most Outstanding Player honors while leading the Gators to their first national title in the sport.


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FOUR BITS: MLB Draft, revenue, Walker, Spikes

1 » The 2014 MLB Draft begins Thursday night and unlike years past, members of the Florida Gators baseball team will not have their attention diverted from postseason competition due to the program being eliminated in the Gainesville Regional portion of the 2014 NCAA Tournament. Also unlike previous years, Florida does not have anyone projected to go in the early rounds of the draft, though that does not mean that draft-eligible Gators will not leave the program early (there were no seniors on the roster).

Junior catcher Taylor Gushue should be the first Florida player off the board at some point during the second day of the draft on Friday (Rounds 3-10). Juniors right-handed pitcher Ryan Harris, first baseman Zack Powers (previously drafted), left-handed pitcher Bobby Poyner, outfielder/RHP Justin Shafer, third baseman Josh Tobias (previously drafted) and second baseman Casey Turgeon (previously drafted) could all be selected. Redshirt junior RHP Karsten Whitson, the No. 9 overall pick in the 2010 MLB Draft, is expected to be picked and choose to a professional after dealing with injuries throughout his Gators career. Florida will also have a number of players from its 14-member 2015 recruiting class drafted.

2 » USA Today on Thursday released its college athletic department financial database, and Florida checked in sixth nationally in total revenue by bringing in more than $130 million last year. Weighed against its $107 million in expenses, UF netted over $23 million (second to Alabama’s $27 million) in 2013. Florida brought in $1 million more in ticket sales ($24.6 million) and $2 million more in contributions ($48.4 million) compared to 2012, figures that increased for the third-straight year (2011-13) after dipping in consecutive years (2009-10). The Gators also spent $1 million more on coaching and staff ($41.9 million) compared to 2012 but were nearly $2 million below its nine-year maximum of $43.7 million in 2011.

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FOUR BITS: Parsons, softball, Pouncey, Boynton

1 » The Houston Rockets have chosen to decline the fourth-year option in forward Chandler Parsons’s rookie contract, making him a restricted free agent this summer. According to Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo! Sports, who first reported the team’s decision, the Rockets have every intention of bringing Parsons back but will decline his $960,000 option in hopes of “match[ing] an offer sheet and retain[ing] Parsons on a longer-term contract.” Houston is also looking to keep its cap space this summer so it can go after another big-name free agent. If the Rockets were to otherwise pick up Parsons’s option, he would be an unrestricted free agent next summer with the ability to go to the highest-paying suitor. Speaking with league executives, Wojnarowski estimates that Parsons holds a value of $12-13 million annually. Houston selected Parsons with the No. 38 overall pick in the second round of the 2011 NBA Draft but signed him to a first round-caliber deal. He has seriously outplayed his rookie contract, averaging 16.6 points, 5.5 rebounds and 4.0 assists in his third NBA season.

2 » Florida Gators softball fans can welcome home the 2014 NCAA National Champions on Wednesday. The school will open Pressly Softball Stadium at 5 p.m. with a championship celebration expected to begin 30-90 minutes later. The event, which will include highlights and live interviews, can also be viewed live here.

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