FOUR BITS: Pro Day, Tim Tebow, tennis, WBK

1 » Though the date has been set for at least a few weeks now, the Florida Gators officially announced this week that the team will hold its Pro Day on March 13. Free and open to the public, Pro Day will feature a number of draft-eligible Gators working out for NFL scouts and coaches from around the league right on Florida Field in Ben Hill Griffin Stadium. Florida also announced that seven players who graduated in 2011 – quarterback John Brantley, defensive end William Green, defensive tackle Jaye Howard, defensive back Moses Jenkins, running back Chris Rainey and wide receiver Deonte Thompson – are scheduled to participate. Also in attendance to work out for scouts will be former Gators including DT Troy Epps, DT Lawrence Marsh, DB Dorian Munroe, DB Wondy Pierre-Louis and WR Justin Williams.

2 » EA Sports announced via their Facebook page that QB Tim Tebow is one of two Denver Broncos players representing his team in the online voting for cover athlete for the Madden NFL 13 video game. Voting begins March 7; after the field is cut down to 32 players, head-to-head votes will take place until the final cover athlete is picked. Tebow, who was on the cover of NCAA Football 11 two years ago, may actually want to avoid winning this contest due to the dreaded and much-publicized Madden curse.

3 » No. 15 Florida women’s tennis (6-1) swept the Florida State Seminoles (5-4) at Linder Stadium at Ring Tennis Complex for the team’s 99th consecutive home victory. The Gators, now 52-1 all-time against the Seminoles, beat their in-state rivals 7-0. The No. 13 pairing of junior Allie Will and sophomore Sofie Oyen won 8-2, leading the way for three doubles victories. No. 1 Will (6-1, 6-2), No. 39 Oyen (6-2, 6-1), No. 18 senior Joanna Mather (6-3, 6-1), No. 23 junior Lauren Embree (6-2, 6-2) and sophomore Olivia Janowicz (6-4, retired) all won their singles matches as well in the rout. Florida will compete in back-to-back road meets against Tennessee on Friday and Georgia on Sunday before returning to Gainesville, FL looking for their 100th straight win at home next Friday against Vanderbilt.

4 » Eight-seed Gators women’s basketball (18-11, 8-8 SEC) is set to begin action in the 2012 SEC Tournament by taking on the nine-seed Auburn Tigers (13-16, 5-11 SEC) on Thursday at 1 p.m. With the game airing live on FOX Sports Network, fans can watch as Florida tries to pull out a victory for the opportunity to square-off with one-seed Kentucky on Friday at 1 p.m.

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Top 11 for 2011: On the Field Moments of the Year

For as much as the Florida Gators were in the news off the field in 2011 (check out Friday’s post), the Gator Nation was making plenty of headlines on it as well. From breathtaking moments, game-changing and game-winning plays to winning championships and setting world records, Florida accomplished some unique athletic feats in 2011. Below are OGGOA‘s Top 11 On the Field Moments of the Year.

11 » JOHNSON, BRANTLEY, KITCHENS SUFFER SCARY INJURIES
Plenty of Florida student-athletes suffered injuries in 2011 but three in particular caused fans to gasp and remain worried about the future of said player. Participating in the semifinals of the 2011 SEC Tournament, Gators baseball wound up dropping a close game 4-3 to Georgia, a loss that forced an elimination game which Florida would later win. However, UF sophomore right-handed pitcher Brian Johnson was taken off a stretcher in the top of the first inning after giving up two earned runs and accidentally being beaned in the back of the head with the baseball by sophomore catcher Mike Zunino. Trying to pick off a runner stealing second, Zunino got his leg tangled with the batter, tripped and flung the ball into the head of a crouching Johnson. He was quickly stabilized, brought to the hospital and deemed responsive though he had a massive headache and was diagnosed with a minor three concussion (no skull fractures or bleeding). Johnson missed the entire Gainesville Regional but returned to action in the Super Regional after being sidelined for more than two weeks.

Redshirt senior quarterback John Brantley was in the middle of playing the best game of his collegiate career (despite throwing a costly pick-six) when he went down with an ugly lower leg injury at the end of the first half against Alabama. Brantley had thrown a pretty 65-yard touchdown pass to redshirt sophomore wide receiver Andre Debose on the first play of the game and was in the middle of driving Florida in for another score before being sacked twice and having his lower leg contorted the second time. Brantley was nearly immediately ruled out of the team’s next game against powerhouse LSU with a high-ankle sprain, and UF was forced to start a true freshman who had not even taken a snap in the team’s first five games in consecutive road contests against LSU and Auburn. Needless to say, the Gators lost both of those contests.

Brantley was never the same after the injury. He nearly helped Florida beat Georgia but was pretty much immobilized in the pocket and threw three interceptions in the team’s first five possessions against Florida State before being knocked out of the game with a head injury that was equally painful to watch. However, that was not the Gators’ only major injury in that game. Perhaps the scariest incident of the year came on kickoff coverage when sophomore linebacker Darrin Kitchens was hit hard from his blindside and laid motionless on the field while trainers attended to him. To this day Kitchens does not remember anything about being hit. Lucky for him, he was cleared that evening with “just” a concussion, released from the hospital and allowed to return to practice with the team just before Christmas. He is expected to play in the 2012 Gator Bowl.

10 » LACROSSE WINS FIRST CONFERENCE TITLE, REACHES ELITE EIGHT

The Florida lacrosse program has been making history since the day it signed the nation’s No. 1 ranked recruiting class prior to the team’s inaugural season in 2010. The Gators were a young but talented group and won over the school even if falling short of some of their goals one year ago. Florida took the next step in 2011, ending the regular season with an 11-0 record at home and on a 13-game winning streak. The Gators capped their stellar regular season by defeating Northwestern for the 2011 ALC Championship just 419 days after the team played its first game in school history. Florida would fall to Northwestern just over three weeks later in the finals of the 2011 ALC Tournament, splitting the season’s conference title down the middle, but took home a number of awards from the league. Sophomore midfielder Kitty Cullen won Player of the Year honors while head coach Amanda O’Leary was named Coach of the Year in just her second season. Two more players were All-ALC first team selections and three others earned spots on the second team. The ladies made it all the way to the Elite Eight of the 2011 NCAA Tournament as well before being taken down 13-9 by Duke, their only loss at home on the season. The Gators were the first program in the history of the sport to earn a berth in the NCAA Tournament in only their second year of existence and defeated some of the top teams in the country on the way to an unforgettable season that sets Florida up as a favorite heading into 2012.

Continue Reading » Top 11 for 2011: On the Field Moments of the Year

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Gators tennis begins, advances in NCAA Singles

Four members of the Florida Gators tennis program advanced to the second round of the 2011 NCAA Individual Championships for singles on Wednesday.

No. 6 senior Alexandre Lacroix took his match 6-4, 4-6, 6-4 over Tulsa’s Japie De Klerk at the Taube Tennis Center in Stanford, CA.

Following him were a trio from Florida’s women’s team. No. 7 sophomore Allie Will defeated No. 60 Emily Fraser of Virginia in straight sets (6-3, 6-0). No. 17 sophomore Lauren Embree accomplished the same feat over Miami’s No. 6 Bianca Eichkorn (7-5, 6-4), and No. 42 junior Joanna Mather followed suit in her win over Marshall’s No. 52 Michaela Kissell (6-2, 6-1).

However, Wednesdays singles matches were not without disappointment.

No. 40 sophomore Sekou Bangoura, Jr. fell 6-2, 6-4 to No. 8 Henrique Cunha of Duke, and a pair from the women’s team joined him. No. 53 freshman Olivia Janowicz won her first set but fell to No. 12 Jacqueline Cako of Arizona State (3-6, 6-1, 6-0), and No. 54 freshman Alex Cercone dropped her match in straight sets to Virginia’s No. 27 Lindsey Hardenbergh (6-2, 7-6).

All is not lost for Bangoura and Cercone as both will compete in doubles action on Thursday. The No. 17 duo of Lacroix/Bangoura and No. 2 team of Will/Cercone will try to advance in their respective first-round matches.

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Embree’s will earns redemption for UF, Boonstra

Exactly one year ago today, Stanford Cardinal tennis player Mallory Burdette won her team the 2010 NCAA Championship. Squaring off against the higher-ranked Florida Gators, Stanford captured their 16th title when Burdette battled and eventually upended then-senior Marrit Boonstra 6-4, 6-7(4), 7-5 in the final match of the afternoon.

Boonstra, understandably, was devastated. Her 17-match singles winning streak came to an end and, more importantly, her inability to close that day cost her team a title. No one blamed her for the loss, but she heaped plenty of it on herself.

What a difference 12 months can make.

After falling to the Cardinal in that match and once again at the 2011 USTA/ITA Indoor Championships, the Gators had revenge on their minds entering the 2011 NCAA Tournament as the No. 2 overall seed.

And wouldn’t you know it? Fighting their way through the bracket with relative ease, Florida wound up face-to-face with Stanford on their home court, a place where the Cardinal had not lost in the last 184 matches spanning more than 12 years.

Tuesday night, it became sophomore Lauren Embree’s job to release that frustration and exact the revenge her team had been building up. What a coincidence it was Embree would be given that opportunity for the Gators…against the exact opponent who ended their party a year earlier.

Embree’s match with Burdette at Taube Tennis Center in Stanford, CA was one for the books. It may not have set records for match length or points won, but something special happened on the court that is tough to capture in words.

Fans in attendance and watching around the world saw two players scrape and claw their way to the brink. Label it determination, tenacity or perseverance; whatever you choose to call it, Embree-Burdette turned into Ali-Frazier and someone had to win.

Luckily for Florida, it was Embree, who fought against impossible odds to claim the fifth national title for the Gators women’s tennis program.

She started the match hot, up 5-1 in the first set before Burdette powered her way to six-straight games and a 7-5 win. Looking dejected, Embree fought back to claim the second set 6-3 and even things up. Then Burdette took over again, mounting a 4-0 advantage in the third and final set, putting Florida’s hopes for a title on the brink even as Gators freshman Olivia Janowicz held a massive lead on the far court.

Embree did not panic.

She kept her focus, channeled some inner strength and fought back to take a 5-4 lead. When Burdette knotted the match twice at 5-5 and 6-6, Embree kept her composure and realized, even though she was exhausted and outmatched physically, her opponent was just as tired and was making more and more mental mistakes.

If Embree could put away a point, she did. If she was falling behind, she kept her rally long enough where either Burdette would have to expend extra energy to win or commit an unforced error due to exhaustion, frustration or both.

Burdette may have had the physical advantage (not to mention a raucous home crowd cheering her on), but Embree was onto her and did everything she could to create opportunities for Burdette to slip up.

In the end, it worked. Embree won a thrilling tiebreaker 8-6, her teammates exploded onto the court to hug her in celebration and Gator Chomps were performed everywhere from Stanford to Gainesville.

Florida accomplished a rare feat.

Not only did they end an undefeated streak, beat the No. 1 team in the country and avenge two championship losses within the last 12 months, the Gators and Embree redeemed a player who gave her heart and soul to the team for four years only to be crushed emotionally in her final performance.

Tuesday night, on the court as a student coach for Florida, Boonstra smiled.

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Florida women’s tennis defeats Miami 4-1 in Elite Eight, advances to 2011 NCAA Final Four

Advancing to the Final Four for the second-straight season and 21st time in the last 25 years, No. 2 Florida Gators women’s tennis (29-1) won a nail-biter against the No. 7 Miami Hurricanes (21-7), beating them 4-1 in the Elite Eight of the 2011 NCAA Tournament at Taube Tennis Stadium in Stanford, CA on Sunday.

With the No. 2 pairing of sophomore Allie Will and freshman Alex Cercone down 7-5 to Miami’s No. 5 duo, Florida wound up winning the other two doubles matches to take the doubles point. The No. 45 team of sophomore Lauren Embree and freshman Sofie Oyen won their match 8-4, and the pair of sophomore Caroline Hitimana and junior Joanna Mather took their contest 8-5 to clinch the point for the Gators.

No. 53 freshman Olivia Janowicz captured the first singles point (6-4, 6-2) for Florida, but Miami answered when Gabriela Mejia beat No. 91 Oyen 7-6(1), 6-1. No. 7 Will defeated No. 6 Bianca Eichkorn in straight sets (6-2, 6-1) to give the Gators a 3-1 advantage with three matches remaining in the contest.

Two of the final three matches entered in the third set and both were within a game of each other; UF was well behind in the third. No. 54 Cercone wound up finishing first, clinching the victory for Florida with a 2-6, 6-1, 7-5 win. No. 42 Mather led her opponent, but No. 17 Embree was trailing in her match as the day came to a close.

The Gators will participate in the semifinals of the NCAA Tournament on Monday evening; Florida is set to take on No. 6 UCLA (22-5) at 7 p.m. in Stanford.

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Gators tennis teams advance to Sweet 16

Sunday was a special day for the Florida Gators tennis program as both the No. 8 men’s and No. 2 women’s teams advanced to the Sweet 16 round of the 2011 NCAA Tournament after sweeping their opponents on a sunny day at Linder Stadium at Ring Tennis Complex in Gainesville, FL.

After a weather delay forced their contest to continue Sunday, the Florida men (20-8) got the day started early and shut out the No. 27 Miami Hurricanes (15-9) 4-0.

The No. 17 duo of senior Alexandre Lacroix and sophomore Sekou Bangoura, Jr. led the doubles teams, winning their match 8-2. Joining them to cinch the doubles point was junior Nassim Slilam and sophomore Billy Federhofer (7-6).

No. 7 Lacroix (6-1, 6-1), No. 89 Slilam (6-2, 6-2) and freshman Spencer Newman (6-0, 6-4) all won their singles matches; Newman’s victory clinched the contest for the Gators. Lacroix’s singles win propelled him to historic status. He is now the all-time overall wins leader in school history with 209 career victories.

The Florida women (27-1) wrapped up the afternoon in similar form, shutting out the South Carolina Gamecocks (14-11) 4-0 behind a strong team performance.

The 45th-ranked team of sophomore Lauren Embree and freshman Sofie Oyen made short work of their opponents, beating them 8-2 for the Gators’ first doubles win. Freshman Olivia Janowicz and junior Joanna Mather followed them with an 8-3 victory, clinching the doubles point for Florida.

No. 7 sophomore Allie Will absolutely trounced No. 44 Anya Morgina of South Carolina, stifling her in straight sets (6-0, 6-0). Helping her complete the sweep for the Gators were No. 42 Mather (6-2, 6-2) and No. 54 freshman Alex Cercone (6-0, 6-3); the latter victory clinched the match.

Florida men’s and women’s tennis will play later this week in Stanford, CA. The men compete on Thursday at 3 p.m., while the women take the court on Friday at 3 p.m.

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Gators tennis wins two SEC titles on Sunday

Easter Sunday was a day of celebration for the Florida Gators tennis program as both the men’s and women’s teams won a 2011 Southeastern Conference Championship after fighting their way through their respective tournaments.

The No. 17 and five-seed men’s team (18-8) defeated the No. 11 and three-seed Kentucky Wildcats (26-8) 4-0 in the tournament final at Linder Stadium at Ring Tennis Complex in Gainesville, FL. The victory is Florida’s fourth men’s tournament victory (1994, 2000, 2005) in seven opportunities.

Senior Alexandre Lacroix, junior Nassim Slilam, sophomore Sekou Bangoura, Jr., sophomore Bob van Overbeek, sophomore Billy Federhofer and freshman Andrew Butz all saw victories on Sunday. The duos of Slilam/Federhofer and van Overbeek/Butz both won their matches; van Overbeek, No. 44 Bangoura and No. 93 Slilam also captured singles victories. No. 8 Lacroix came out of the tournament with Most Valuable Player honors and was named to the All-Tournament Team along with Slilam.

The No. 2 and one-seed women’s team (25-1) won its 17th SEC Tournament title in the 24-years it has existed, defeating the No. 14 and two-seed Tennessee Volunteers (17-4) 4-0 at Barksdale Stadium in Knoxville, TN.

Sophomore Allie Will, junior Joanna Mather, freshmen Alex Cercone and freshman Olivia Janowicz collected victories to fuel the Gators’ shutout. The duos of No. 9 Will/Cercone and Mather/Janowicz won their matches; No. 6 Will, No. 50 Janowicz and No. 51 Cercone were also victorious in singles competition.

Will was named the MVP and, along with Janowicz, picked for the All-Tournament Team.

The victories Sunday mark the 11th and 12th conference titles won by the University of Florida in 2010-11. It is the third time in school history that both programs won the SEC Tournament in the same season (2000, 2005).

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FOUR BITS: tennis wins SEC, gym, Davis, Hill

1 » No. 1 Florida Gators women’s tennis (22-1, 11-0 SEC) shutout the South Carolina Gamecocks (12-9, 4-7 SEC) 7-0 on Saturday to capture the outright 2011 Southeastern Conference Championship for the regular season at Linder Stadium at Ring Tennis Complex in Gainesville, FL. The victory not only won Florida the SEC title and a No. 1 seed (including a bye) in the upcoming 2011 SEC Tournament, it was also the team’s 102nd consecutive regular season victory and 93rd-straight at home. The No. 8 doubles team of sophomore Allie Will and freshman Alex Cercone took down their No. 32-ranked opponents 8-4. No. 7 Will and No. 51 Cercone each won their singles matches, as did No. 20 sophomore Lauren Embree, No. 37 junior Joanna Mather, No. 49 freshman Olivia Janowicz and No. 104 freshman Sofie Oyen. The No. 43 duo of Embree and Oyen also won their doubles match earlier in the day.

2 » No. 5 Gators gymnastics was not as successful over the weekend, failing to advance to the 2011 NCAA Super Six team final by finishing fourth in Session II of the 2011 NCAA Championships semifinals. Florida finished with 196.125 points behind Alabama (197.05), Nebraska (196.85) and Utah (196.20). Fortunately for the Gators, three of the ladies advanced to the NCAA individual event finals on Sunday. Freshman Alaina Johnson will compete in vault, uneven bars and floor exercise; sophomore Marissa King will try her hand at vault and floor exercise; and senior Maranda Smith will participate in the floor exercise. All three were named to the All-American First Team.

3 » Florida 2012 running back commitment Mike Davis (Stone Mountain, GA) won a Most Valuable Player award for his group at the Nike Football Training Camp in Athens, GA on Friday. “Mike did some incredible things,” Jake Campbell, running backs coach at the camp, told ESPN. “He has great lateral movement and change of direction. He’s terrific in the open field. He’s a true running back where things come so natural to him. He’s versatile and has soft hands. He’s also a strong ball carrier who really seems to understand the position.”

4 » Gators safety Will Hill, waiting to find out who will take a chance on him in the 2011 NFL Draft, participated in a local prospect day for the New York Giants on Thursday. The Newark Star-Ledger’s Mike Garafolo says Hill “has the Giants intrigued” to the point that they have “look[ed] into the personal side of things” regarding his character.

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