FOUR BITS: Award finalists, visiting recruits, cross country at NCAAs, volleyball award

1 » Numerous Florida Gators football players have been named finalists for national college football awards set to be announced during the Home Depot ESPNU College Football Awards show on Dec. 10 at 7 p.m. on ESPN. Senior quarterback Tim Tebow – Maxwell Award (Best All-Around Player), Davey O’Brien Award (Best Quarterback); senior middle linebacker Brandon Spikes – Chuck Bednarik Award (Best Defensive Player); junior cornerback Joe Haden – Jim Thorpe Award (Best Defensive Back); junior punter Chas Henry – Ray Guy Award (Best Punter); junior tight end Aaron Hernandez – John Mackey Award (Best Tight End).

2 » Edward Aschoff over at the Gainesville Sun has compiled a comprehensive list of high school football players expected to visit Gainesville, FL, for the Florida vs. Florida State Seminoles game on Saturday. Among them are 12 current commitments (Elam, Christian, Brown, Burton, Watkins, Patton, Orr, Silberman, Ball, Trail, Haden, Van) as well as 5-star, 4-star and 3-star recruits. OGGOA reported via twitter that five-star safety commit Matt Elam rescheduled his official visit for Dec. 12, but he may also visit unofficially this weekend.

3 » No. 5 women’s cross country finished in seventh-place at the 2009 NCAA Championships on Monday afternoon. The highest finish in program history, the Gators were the only Southeastern Conference team competing in the event. The top-10 finish was the first in program history, according to the Sports Information Department. “We’ve had a tremendous year, cross country coach Todd Morgan said. “We won the SEC and the South Regional Championships and today, we finished top 10 in the country for the first time. We’re definitely leaving here feeling like we didn’t run totally on cylinders, which is a great thing because we still finished so well.”

4 » On Sunday, senior Florida libero Elyse Cusack moved into second place on the SEC’s all-time career digs list. Her great weekend was capped off with an SEC Defensive Player of the Week honor announced by the conference on Monday. This is Cusack’s 12th time winning the award, her third this season. Since the SEC started handing out this award for volleyball in 2003, the Gators have won it 22 times – more than any other program.

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No. 13 volleyball takes down No. 10 Kentucky

No. 13 Florida Gators volleyball (21-5, 15-4 SEC) stormed through Lexington, KY, on Sunday, defeating the No. 10 Kentucky Wildcats (27-3, 17-2 SEC) 3-1 (31-29, 25-23, 24-26, 25-21). Senior libero Elyse Cusack moved second place on the Southeastern Conference‘s all-time career digs list by turning in a season-high 33 to increase her career total to 2,055.

Four Gators contributed by recording double-figure kills – the 12th time this season that three or more players have reached the level in the same contest. Florida also recorded double-figure team blocks for the eighth time in 2009. Sophomore outside hitter Colleen Ward led the team with 14 kills and a career-high 18 digs for her fourth double-double of the season. Her classmate and positionmate Kristy Jaeckel added 12 kills and 13 digs of her own for her ninth double-double of the season. Adding to the fun was sophomore right-side/setter Kelly Murphy with a career-high 43 assists.

“I think this was just a great match of high-level volleyball,” head coach Mary Wise said. “It was two very good teams battling with such great rallies. We feel very fortunate to have won and have to give credit to a good Kentucky team that really battled without its senior setter for most of the match.”

The Gators volleyball team returns to action on Friday, Nov. 27, when they square off against the South Carolina Gamecocks in the Stephen C. O’Connell Center at 4 p.m.

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Gators basketball topples Trojans 80-58

Florida Gators basketball (3-0) got back on track Friday night, using a team-high 23 points from freshman guard Kenny Boynton to defeat the Troy Trojans (2-1) 80-50 in the Stephen C. O’Connell Center. After starting 0-for-5 from the floor and finishing the last game 0-10, sophomore point guard Erving Walker rebounded with 13 points in the second half along with three assists and six rebounds. Boynton also added four assists and six rebounds of his own.

Other double-digit scorers for the Gators included forwards junior Chandler Parsons and senior Dan Werner, who contributed 15 and 12, respectively. Parsons led Florida with seven rebounds while Werner found his touch, going 4-for-5 from three-point range.

Junior F Alex Tyus contributed two blocks and nine points but left the game with a sprained right ankle as time ticked away in the second half. “I am concerned about Tyus’ ankle,” head coach Billy Donovan said after the game. “I don’t know where that’s at.”

The Gators remain home for their next game against the in-state rival Florida State Seminoles. Tip-off is scheduled for 7 p.m. on Tuesday, Nov. 24 at the O’Connell Center. The game will air live on Sun Sports – check your local listings.

In other news… No. 13/13 Florida volleyball (20-5, 14-4 SEC) dropped a 3-1 heartbreaker (22-25, 25-23, 25-25, 25-22) to the Tennessee Volunteers (21-7, 14-4 SEC) on the road Friday. Sophomore right-side/setter Kelly Murphy recorded her nation-leading ninth triple-double of the season and the 15th of her career, while sophomore outside hitter Kristy Jaeckel contributed her eighth double-double of the year. Tennessee’s Nikki Fowler turned in a match-high 19 kills and was one of four Lady Vols to reach double figures in the victory. The Gators return to action on Sunday against the No. 10 Kentucky Wildcats in Lexington, KY. Opening serve is set for 2 p.m.

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FOUR BITS: 3s, weekend games, Spikes, injuries

1 » Florida Gators basketball (2-0) looks to keep on rolling as they take on the Troy Trojans (2-0) Friday at 7 p.m. in the Stephen C. O’Connell Center. Shooting a combined 3-for-29 (10.3%) from behind the arc, the Gators are bucking a trend head coach Billy Donovan set upon his arrival to Gainesville, FL. Florida has traditionally been among the best in the Southeastern Conference in three-point shooting percentage as Donovan has made it a priority both in his recruiting and game plans. “I think for guys like Kenny [Boynton] and Erving [Walker], it is probably somewhat uncharacteristic,” Donovan said. “They have been shooting the ball well in practice. Chandler [Parsons] and Dan [Werner] are guys that maybe have been a little more up and down in their careers.”

2 » There’s plenty of other Gators sports action on the docket for the weekend. Men’s and women’s swimming & diving begin their participation in all-day weekend tournaments Friday. Women’s basketball (1-1) faces the No. 25 Pittsburgh Panthers (1-0) in Pittsburgh, PA, on Friday, and No. 13/13 volleyball (20-4, 14-3 SEC) heads to Knoxville, TN, to serve against the Tennessee Volunteers (20-7, 13-4 SEC) – both matches are scheduled for 7 p.m. Volleyball will then travel to Lexington, KY, to take on the Kentucky Wildcats (26-2, 16-1 SEC) on Sunday at 2 p.m.

3 » Senior middle linebacker Brandon Spikes has been named as one of the five finalists for the 25th annual Butkus Award honoring the nation’s top linebacker. Other finalists include Rolando McClain of the Alabama Crimson Tide, Sergia Kindle of the Texas Longhorns, Sean Weatherspoon of the Missouri Tigers and Eric Norwood of the South Carolina Gamecocks.

4 » Redshirt juniors running back Emmanuel Moody (sprained ankle) and defensive tackle Terron Sanders (rib/back) have been ruled out for the Florida International Golden Panthers game on Saturday. According to head coach Urban Meyer, senior defensive end Jermaine Cunningham is “50-50” for the game with an unspecified injury. This is a good week to rest any banged up players prior to the regular season finale against the Florida State Seminoles next weekend.

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Soccer moves on in NCAAs as volleyball falls

Earning a No. 3 regional seed in the 2009 NCAA Championship, the Florida Gators soccer team (16-5-2, 8-1-2 SEC) took down the Illinois State Redbirds (12-7-1, 5-1 MVC) 2-0 in the first round of the tournament Friday night at the Jesse Owens Memorial Stadium in Columbus, OH. Going scoreless in the first half, the Gators turned it on after the break as sophomore Tahnai Annis and redshirt freshman McKenzie Barney scored two goals in a seven-minute span. Florida has advanced in the tournament and will face the Oregon State Beavers (13-7-1, 4-5 Pac 10) on Sunday at 1 p.m. in second round action.

Coming off an eight match streak where they swept each opponent in straight sets, the No. 10/11 Florida volleyball team (20-4, 14-3 SEC) was taken to task by the No. 19/17 LSU Tigers Friday evening in the Stephen C. O’Connell Center. The Tigers beat the Gators 3-1 (24-26, 25-23, 25-19, 25-17), sweeping the regular season series between the two teams. LSU’s Brittnee Cooper and Marina Skender combined for 36 of 52 kills while Florida was led by sophomore outside hitter Kristy Jaeckel and her team-high 18 kills. Sophomore right-side/setter Kelly Murphy recorded her nation-leading eight triple-double of the season and the 14th of her career with 13 kills on .333 hitting with 29 assists and 15 digs. The Gators hit the road next weekend, traveling to Knoxville, TN, to face the Tennessee Volunteers on Friday, Nov. 20 at 7 p.m. Florida swept Tennessee in straight sets on Oct. 4.

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Gators women’s sports set for big day Friday

Three University of Florida women’s sports teams are set for action on Friday, each beginning one hour after another. First up is the Florida Gators soccer team (15-5-2, 8-1-2 SEC), which is in Columbus, OH, for the first round of the NCAA Championship. The Gators will face the Illinois State Redbirds (12-6-1, 5-1 MVC) at 5 p.m. at Jesse Owens Memorial Stadium. The winner of the match will face the victor of the Ohio State Buckeyes and Oregon State Beavers game on Sunday in second round action.

Also on the docket for Friday, the softball team (4-0) will host Chipola College in what is basically preseason action at 6 p.m. at Pressly Softball Stadium. So far this season, the Gators have played two games each against Santa Fe College and Seminole College, coming out victorious in all with an average 6.25 run margin of victory.

To close out the evening, No. 10 Florida volleyball (20-3, 14-2 SEC) will take on the Southeastern Conference West division-leading No. 19 LSU Tigers (20-5, 14-2 SEC). Since being swept 3-0 by the Tigers on Oct. 11 in Baton Rouge, LA, the Gators have been playing outstanding, scoring sweeps against eight consecutive opponents. Florida and LSU are tied for second place in the league standings with a victory Friday going a long way for the Gators. The game will air live from the Stephen C. O’Connell Center at 7 p.m. on SUN Sports.

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Florida brings in baseball, volleyball commitments

Selected in the 44th round of the 2009 MLB Draft by the Chicago Cubs, right handed pitcher Frank DeJiulio (Ocala, FL) turned down a professional contract and decided to return to school. This week during the NCAA’s early signing period, DeJiulio officially accepted his scholarship and committed to the Florida Gators. Standing 6’3″, DeJiulio played one season for Daytona State College after high school and could be used as a starter or closer with the Gators.

Also signing national letters of intent with the Gators this week are setter Chanel Brown (Tempe, AZ) and libero Taylor Unroe (Muncie, IN). The two women, standing 5’9″ and 5’7″ respectively, are elite-level players who are both expected to compete as freshmen beginning in 2010. “In Chanel and Taylor, we have signed two elite athletes that bring both high-level skills and a lot of energy to the court,” volleyball head coach Mary Wise said. “Gator fans are going to enjoy watching them play throughout their careers.”

[UPDATE:] Apparently women’s basketball wanted to get in on the action too, signing four high school recruits to 2010 letters of intent on Wednesday. Forward Deaundra Young and guards Jaterra Bonds (Gainesville, FL), Kayla Lewis (Decatur, GA) and Brittany Shine (Sacramento, CA) all committed to head coach Amanda Butler, who could not have been more pleased to accept each of them. “There is not another group of players I would want to coach and I cannot wait to begin working with them,” Butler said. “These four players understand how special it is to be a Gator and that’s very important to me. They have great personalities, are super talented and each has a tremendous work-ethic.” Young, 6’2”, is the prize recruit of the class and is rated the nation’s 48th-best player (No. 8 forward) according to ESPN HoopGurlz. She is the niece of LaShawnda Jackson, a former letterwinner with the Florida track and field team. ESPN also ranks Lewis as the No. 16 small forward, Shine as the No. 25 guard and Bonds as the No. 32 shooting guard.

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FOUR BITS: Tebow’s protection, margin of victory, volleyball sweeps (again), Lacroix wins

1 » One reason for senior quarterback Tim Tebow’s struggles? A porous Florida Gators offensive line. Tebow has taken 21 sacks on the season, eight more than he did in 2007 and six more than 2008…and he still has five games left to play. Some of that can be blamed on Tebow holding on to the ball too long, but the majority of the fault falls on the men supposed to be protecting the Heisman Trophy winner. “We don’t take pride in giving up sacks,” redshirt junior left tackle Carl Johnson said. “We try our best to protect him, try our best to make sure he has time in the pocket. Teams are just blitzing a lot – sometimes they bring more than we actually can protect.” Could offensive line coach and new offensive coordinator Steve Addazio be in over his head? It is a common theme going around, even if players and coaches don’t admit it.

2 » While everyone is going seemingly off the deep end about Florida’s offensive struggles, I took a minute and checked out the nine wins so far this season. Here are the margins of victory: 59, 50, 10, 34, 10, 3, 10, 34, 24. Now look at the numbers through the first nine games in 2006: 27, 42, 1, 19, 15, 13, -10, 7, 6. Not counting the preseason non-conference games, the Gators are averaging a 17.4-point margin of victory in 2009 compared to 7.3 in 2006. Now obviously one team is coming off a National Championship season while another was trying to find its footing for much of the year. But in comparing the two teams, which has been done defensively all season, you see a group that has won by double digits in every game they have played except for the squeaker against the Arkansas Razorbacks. Not bad.

3 » No. 9/11 Florida volleyball (20-3, 14-2 SEC) continues to roll in Southeastern Conference play, sweeping the Auburn Tigers (14-12, 6-9 SEC) 3-0 (25-15, 25-18, 25-13) on Sunday in the Stephen C. O’Connell Center. Sophomore outside hitters Kristy Jaeckel and Colleen Ward combined for 22 kills and 15 digs as the Gators went on to score their 20th win of the season. It has swept eight straight SEC opponents and next faces the LSU Tigers on Friday, Nov. 13 at 7 p.m. The match will air on Sun Sports.

4 » Gators tennis had a busy weekend, but nobody played better than junior Alexandre Lacroix, who won the singles consolation final at the ITA National Indoor Championships on Sunday. Lacroix, the No. 23 player in the nation, defeated No. 46 Ed Corrie of the Texas Longhorns in straight sets, 6-3, 6-1. Now that the fall season is complete, tennis will next play in mid-January at the SEC Indoors.

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