FOUR BITS: Donovan, Spikes, volleyball, soccer

1 » The Florida Gators announced on Tuesday that head coach Billy Donovan’s son of the same name has decided to transfer to Florida and walk on to the team to play for and learn from his father. Billy Donovan , who spent his last two years playing for the Catholic Cardinals (Division III) in Washington, D.C., has already joined the team and will don the No. 42 though fans will not see him on the court this year as he will be forced to ride the bench during games due to NCAA transfer rules. As was noted a year ago when Catholic traveled to Gainesville, FL to play the Gators in an exhibition game, the younger Donovan originally chose to attend that university in order to further his passion for politics. A change of career path – he is now interested in a coaching or administrative role in a basketball organization – led him right back to where he grew up. “I never wanted it to be like I was telling him what to do career-wise,” Donovan told UF’s GatorZone.com. “I think he needs to figure that out on his own. My job, my wife’s job, is to be supportive and help put him in the best situation for him to pursue what he wants to pursue.” There is probably no better spot for the younger Donovan to learn how to coach or run a basketball team than under the wing of a future hall of fame coach.

2 » New England Patriots linebacker Brandon Spikes received some bad news on Friday when he learned that the NFL decided to fine him $21,000 for an illegal blindside block he threw in a game on Sept. 30. Spikes, who leveled Buffalo tight end Scott Chandler during an interception return for his team, told the team’s website earlier in the week that he did not believe that he did anything wrong. “A lot of guys, they know the new rules. I don’t think I’ve done anything illegal,” he said. “I’ve tried to keep it legal, but I just want to kind of try to make a point – when I hit a guy, I want him [to say], ‘Oh, that was Spikes that hit me. I know that already.”

3 » No. 11 Florida volleyball (13-2, 7-0 SEC) has been on a roll as of late, wrapping up their ninth- and 10th-straight regular season wins over the weekend while hosting a pair of Southeastern Conference opponents in Gainesville. UF registered a 3-0 sweep (25-23, 25-18, 25-15) the Arkansas Razorbacks (13-4, 4-2 SEC) on Friday before coming from two sets down to win 3-2 (22-25, 20-25, 25-22, 25-22, 15-8) against the Kentucky Wildcats (10-7, 4-3 SEC) on Sunday. Freshman outside hitter Ziva Recek of Slovenia was named the SEC Offensive Player of the Week on Monday for her efforts over the weekend. She registered a total of 32 kills and 14 digs combined over the two matches. Impressive in her own right was junior middle back Chloe Mann, who notched a combined 22 kills and 30.0 points on the weekend.

4 » No. 12 Gators soccer (10-3-1, 7-1 SEC) is on a roll of their own, shaking off early season disappointment to rebound with a seven-match winning streak including two big road victories over the last weekend. Florida won 2-0 over the LSU Tigers (5-5-4, 1-4-2 SEC) on Friday before, like volleyball, coming back from a deficit to take down the No. 5 Texas A&M Aggies (12-2-1, 6-1-1 SEC) 2-1 on Sunday. Four different players scored goals for the Gators over the weekend with senior midfielder/forward Erika Tymrak and sophomore MF Havana Solaun finding the back of the net on Friday and senior defender Jo Dragotta and junior F Adriana Leon scoring on Sunday. Tymrak, who garnered SEC Offensive Player of the Week honors on Monday, also notched an assist on Leon’s game-winning goal.

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FOUR BITS: Hernandez, Muschamp, soccer, volley

1 » Only two weeks into the 2012 NFL regular season and a second former Florida Gators offensive starter has gone down with a serious injury. New England Patriots tight end Aaron Hernandez, who had six receptions for 59 yards and a touchdown in Week 1, got rolled up on during his team’s game on Sunday and seriously injured his ankle. Though the exact injury has not been announced publicly, it is believed that Hernandez suffered a high-ankle sprain as tests after the game revealed that he did not break any bones. Pro Football Talk’s Mike Florio reported Sunday that the Patriots are expecting Hernandez to be out up to six weeks, a timeframe consistent with a high-ankle sprain (as was the fact that he left the stadium on crutches with his foot/ankle in a protective boot). Buffalo Bills wide receiver David Nelson tore his anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) last week and will miss the rest of the season.

2 » A fan video posted on YouTube after the now-No. 14 Florida Gators defeated the Tennessee Volunteers happened to catch head coach Will Muschamp celebrating. Check him and all of his Gator Chomps out below (you can skip to 0:30 if you wish):

3 » Since OGGOA’s last update on the team, Florida women’s soccer has remained somewhat average, now boasting a 4-3-1 (1-1-0 SEC) record just two games into league play. The Gators defeated New Mexico 3-2 at home on Sept. 9 to close out their non-conference schedule and split a pair of weekend road matches. Florida fell 2-1 to the Kentucky Wildcats (6-1-0, 1-0-0 SEC) on Friday, taking an early 1-0 advantage with a goal from redshirt senior forward McKenzie Barney at 13’ but allowing UK to score two unanswered goals (one in each half) on their way to victory. The Gators did just the opposite on Sunday, coming back from an early 1-0 deficit to force overtime and win just 10 minutes into the period. Florida took a 2-1 overtime victory over the Auburn Tigers (4-5-0, 0-2-0 SEC) thanks to strikes from senior midfielder Holly King (73’) and junior F Adriana Leon (100’). UF will now look to rely on some home cooking as the Gators host four-straight matches over the next two weekends.

4 » OGGOA was equally negligent in covering volleyball last week though No. 13 Florida (8-2, 2-0 SEC) has rattled off five-straight wins over the last two weekends. The Gators won the self-hosted Active Ankle Challenge in dominant fashion with big victories over the Jacksonville Dolphins (3-0: 25-18, 25-11, 25-11), Louisiana Ragin’ Cajuns (3-1: 25-15, 25-14, 23-25, 25-12) and Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets (3-1: 22-25, 25-15, 25-21, 25-22). On the Georgia Tech roster is former UF head coach Urban Meyer’s daughter Nicki Meyer, who registered 11 digs for GT.

Florida began league play this past weekend with a pair of road victories. The Gators earned a hard-fought 3-2 victory (23-25, 25-22, 25-22, 19-25, 15-13) over the Arkansas Razorbacks (9-3, 0-1 SEC) on Friday before putting together a dominant 3-0 sweep (25-21, 25-14, 25-18) of the No. 24 Kentucky Wildcats (6-5, 0-1 SEC) on Sunday. Junior middle back Chloe Mann led the way with a combined 25 kills on the weekend, but senior right side Tangerine Wiggs was equally impressive with a combined 23 kills of her own. Florida will host Missouri on Friday in their only action this week.

Extra BITS » Two OGGOA readers sent in pictures this week. The first, by baker Reuben Romney, is a cake he sold to a Florida State fan with orange and blue cake on the inside (they laughed). The second, by Ray, is a graphic representation of the nickname Hot Light Hammond, in reference to redshirt senior wide receiver Frankie Hammond, Jr.‘s play making and love for Krispy Kreme donuts.

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FOUR BITS: soccer, volleyball, Raymond, Starks

1 » Coming off a terrific weekend where they managed a draw and victory over a pair of ranked opponents, No. 22 Florida Gators soccer was feeling the momentum heading into a showdown with the No. 1 Florida State Seminoles on Friday. FSU (3-0) put that sense to rest quickly, scoring 10 minutes into the match via a header off a throw-in and holding off Florida for the remainder of the contest (despite UF finding a number of scoring opportunities) to earn a hard-fought 1-0 victory. The Gators got a measure of revenge Sunday by dominating the Florida International Panthers in their first home match in more than two weeks. Florida (2-2-1) won 3-0 over FIU (2-2) thanks to a pair of goals from sophomore midfielder Havana Solaun (13’, 58’) and another from redshirt senior forward McKenzie Barney at 27’. UF has a light weekend ahead, hosting New Mexico on Sunday at 1 p.m. before beginning their league slate next week.

2 » No. 18 Gators volleyball also faced some stiff competition over the weekend while up in University Park, PA competing in the Nike Big Four Classic. Florida (3-2) was swept 3-0 by the No. 2 Texas Longhorns (5-0) on Friday and fell 3-1 to the No. 9 Stanford Cardinal (3-2) on Saturday. Freshman outside hitter Ziva Recek stood out in a big way against Texas, recording 22 kills which “marks the best 3-set hitting performance by a freshman in Florida history and ties her for third-best in a 3-set match in program history,” according to the school. She continued her dominance on Saturday with 15 more kills in the four-set match. Junior middle back Chloe Mann combined for 29 kills over the two games. UF will now remain home for its next four matches as it plays the Slovenian Junior National Team in an exhibition game Monday before hosting the Active Ankle Challenge (in which they will play three games) from Sept. 7-8.

3 » Coming off an Olympic bronze medal in mixed doubles, former Gators tennis star Lisa Raymond hoped to keep the magic going while competing in the US Open, the major in which she has found the most career success, over the weekend. Unfortunately Raymond, as part of the No. 2-ranked mixed doubles pairing with fellow American Mike Bryan, fell to Brazil in first-round action and was eliminated from the tournament. She and partner Liezel Huber, the No. 1-ranked women’s doubles duo in the world, did advance to the third round of that tournament but lost to the No. 16-ranked team from Spain 6-4, 2-6, 6-4. Raymond has won 13 career grand slam titles, five of which (three women’s doubles, two mixed doubles) have come at the US Open.

4 » Former Florida offensive lineman Max Starks, coming off a pair of injuries in as many seasons, has twice now been tossed to the scrap heap by the Pittsburgh Steelers only to be brought back as a major contributor. After signing a four-year, $26.3 million contract in the 2009 offseason, Starks was cut in July of 2011 after neck problems and weight issues gave the team cause for concern. Pittsburgh wound up re-signing him after injuries plagued their offensive line, and Starks started at left tackle for the rest of the season. He then tore his anterior cruciate in the Steelers’ playoff loss and did not have his one-year contract renewed. However, just like last season, Pittsburgh brought him back (this time in July) on a one-year deal. The team announced this weekend that Starks will be their starting left tackle on opening day. “There was no way I was thinking when I get healthy they’ll re-sign me,” Starks told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. “I wanted to get healthy and figured teams will be out there, and, if I have to wait through training camp and into the season like last year, I’ll do that, prepare for that. It just so happens, there was an opportunity to come back. It was a blessing.”

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Gators soccer notches upset, volleyball sweeps

Florida Gators soccer, coming off a disappointing loss to open the season that dropped the team out of the top 25, rebounded in a major way over the weekend while playing a pair of matches on the road in Chapel Hill, NC.

After fighting tooth-and-nail with the No. 19 North Carolina Tar Heels (0-1-1) on Friday in what would ultimately end up as a scoreless draw following two overtimes, Florida (1-1-1) came back from two goals down to pull off an impressive 3-2 upset of the No. 2 Duke Blue Devils (3-1) in overtime on Sunday.

The Gators trailed by two goals early in the contest, allowing Blue Devils midfielder Gilda Doria (10’) and Cassie Pecht (29’) to find the back of the net. Florida would cut their deficit in half just 10 minutes later as sophomore forward Jillian Graff kicked in a pass from sophomore midfielder Havana Solaun at 39’.

UF knotted the match at 65’ thanks to a bit of luck after a corner kick by senior MF/F Erika Tymrak deflected off a Duke player and was scored as an own goal.

The two teams held even through the end of regulation, but the Gators would come out on top just minutes into extra time when Tyrak once again came through in the clutch by booing the golden goal off a pass from redshirt senior F/MF McKenzie Barney.

Florida is now riding a wave of momentum into Friday’s road match against No. 3 Florida State, which is set to air at 7 p.m. live on ESPN3.com. The Gators will follow that up with two home games before beginning league play on Sept. 14.

No. 18 Florida volleyball (3-0) may not have had been faced with the same challenges that their soccer counterparts were, but the Gators were equally impressive while hosting the Campus USA Credit Union Invitational from Aug. 24-25 in Gainesville, FL.

The Gators swept all three of their weekend opponents, picking up consecutive 3-0 victories over the Florida International Panthers (0-1), Florida A&M Rattlers (0-2) and Florida Gulf Coast Eagles (2-1) over the course of two days.

Junior middle back Chloe Mann (42 kills, 48 points) led the way for Florida with averages of 14 kills and 16 points over the three contests. Joining her with impressive performances of their own were freshman outside hitters Ziva Recek (29 kills, 30 points) and Berkley Whaley (21 kills, 27.5 points).

Gigi Meyer, the daughter of former UF head coach Urban Meyer and a member of the FGCU volleyball team, competed in the event as well. She registered 60 assists over her team’s three matches (10 against Florida).

Next up for the Gators is the Nike Big Four Classic from Aug. 31-Sept. 1 in University Park, PA. Florida will take on No. 2 Texas and No. 6 Stanford in the two-day event.

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FOUR BITS: Taylor, Hill, Tebow, volleyball

1 » ESPN’s Michael Wilbon, in a piece published on July 31 and apparently missed by OGGOA, said that Florida Gators field star Christian Taylor (United States) is someone whose name should be remembered by the public heading into the 2012 London Olympics. Needing just one jump on Tuesday to qualify for the finals of the Men’s Triple Jump (set to be held on Thursday at 2:20 p.m.), Taylor explained to Wilbon how he learned the event that he has been so successful in up to this point in his career. “I went to YouTube … and how to DVDs. That was my film session,” he said.

2 » Former Gators safety Will Hill continues to turn heads at New York Giants training camp, so much so that the undrafted free agent who spent a year away from football is said to be “vying for significant time at safety” this season, according to Sports Illustrated’s Peter King. Hill was also praised by head coach Tom Coughlin last week for being a standout in the secondary (as well as during special teams drills) and has been taking snaps as a first-team nickel back this week, according to the Associated Press. “I have the mentality, because I wasn’t drafted, [that] I have to prove myself to not only the coaches but also the players that I belong here,” Hill said. “So that’s how I just go out every day and attack it, full-on.” He also admitted that he only had himself to blame. “Me. Me,” Hill said. “Just thinking too highly of myself and thinking, ‘Oh, I am at the top again, nothing can happen to me and I can do whatever I want.’ And I paid for it.”

3 » Speaking on his own WFAN radio show on Monday, former NFL quarterback Boomer Esiason suggested that the New York Jets should cut QB Tim Tebow.

“You want to know, if I were the Jets, what I would do? Want to know what I would do? I would cut Tim Tebow, I really would. I would. I’m just telling you right now: I would. And I’ll tell you why I would. It’s just not in any way, shape or form, I think, benefitting this team. I don’t see how it benefits…unless one thing that I would say is because you got a bunch of lunatics in that locker room. […] The fact is, the reason you may want Tim Tebow on this team – specifically for one reason and one reason only – and that’s the character issue.”

Esiason has been critical of Tebow in the past and similarly suggested that the Denver Broncos cut him following a poor performance in a regular season game in 2011. And what did Tebow say when he was asked to respond to Esiason’s comments? “I’ve heard nothing but great things about Mr. Esiason. I know he was a great player here and I wish him nothing but the best in his announcing. God bless him.”

4 » Though most Florida fans may be focused on the upcoming football season, Gators volleyball is set to host the Campus USA Credit Union Invite from Aug. 24-25 in Gainesville, FL against three other teams from the state of Florida. The Southeastern Conference this week polled its volleyball coaches to come up with preseason predictions. The SEC coaches chose Tennessee to win the conference championship with 12-of-13 first-place votes; Florida received the other but was picked to finish sixth in the league standings. The Gators also had just one team member – junior middle back Chloe Mann – selected for the Preseason All-SEC Team. Being an underdog is new ground for Florida under head coach Mary Wise. The Gators won the SEC consecutively from 1991-2008 and also took home a conference title in 2010. Florida finished third in 2009 and second last season. The 2012 team features just five upper classmen along with four sophomores and seven freshman (one redshirt).

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SIX BITS: Beal, Olympics, Cup awards, Crawford

1 » Could Florida Gators freshman guard Bradley Beal be the decided target of the Washington Wizards with the No. 3 overall pick in the 2012 NBA Draft on June 28? That appears to be the case after Washington completed a trade on Wednesday that sent a small forward Rashard Lewis and a second-round pick to New Orleans for SF Trevor Ariza and power forward/center Emeka Okafor. By adding two talented, starting-caliber frontcourt players, the chances that the Wizards would select a forward like Kentucky’s Michael Kidd-Gilchrist or Kansas’ Thomas Robinson (if he was even available) have been reduced significantly, meaning Beal could very well be the top player on their board with the draft just over a week away.

2 » Speaking of Beal, ESPN analyst Fran Fraschilla wrote Wednesday about what weakness Beal needs to improve on ($) in order to have a productive NBA career.

Beal’s screen-and-roll ability in Billy Donovan‘s screen-and-roll-oriented offense was average at best. Often when challenged by the screener’s defender (usually a big man), Beal was not able to take him on and beat him off the dribble. Ultimately, Beal shot just 35 percent in the screen-and-roll, and his overall points produced for himself or his teammates was a paltry 0.7 points per possession.

Part of the reason Beal struggled in the screen-and-roll is that he is a straight-line driver. I don’t doubt that he has been working hard on his ballhandling creativity. If he is going to be more than a one-dimensional jump-shooter, he’ll be handling the ball a lot, especially because the NBA’s 24-second shot clock demands it.

3 » The 2012 U.S. Olympic Team Trials for track & field begin Friday in Eugene, OR with 17 total current and former Gators hoping to earn the opportunity to compete in the2012 London Olympics. Among those participating in the trials over the next 11 days are 10 current Florida student-athletes including: senior/junior Dwight Barbiasz (high jump), junior Omar Craddock (triple jump), junior/senior Jeff Demps (100-meter dash), freshman Marquis Dendy (long jump), freshman Dedric Dukes (200-meter dash), sophomore Ebony Eutsey (400-meter dash), sophomore Eddie Lovett (110-meter hurdles), sophomore Cory McGee (1,500-meter run), junior Tony McQuay (400-meter dash) and junior Jeremy Postin (hammer throw). Former Gators set to compete include: Hazel Clark (800-meter dash), Will Claye (long jump, triple jump), Kerron Clement (400-meter hurdles), Gray Horn (decathlon), Calvin Smith (400-meter dash), Wes Stockbarger (discus throw) and Christian Taylor (triple jump).

4 » The University of Florida athletic program finished No. 2 in the nation in the 2011-12 Learfield Sports Directors’ Cup. Twelve Florida programs finished among the top 10 of their respective sport nationally including women’s tennis (No. 1), men’s indoor track & field (No. 1), men’s outdoor track & field (No. 1), gymnastics (No. 2), lacrosse (No. 3), men’s basketball (No. 5), volleyball (No. 5), baseball (No. 7), men’s swimming & diving (No. 8), women’s indoor track & field (No. 9), men’s tennis (No. 9) and women’s swimming and diving (No. 10). It is the fourth-straight year that the Gators have finished in the top four of the Cup’s final rankings and second time in the last three years (2009-10). Florida has never won the Cup but has finished in the top 10 in each of the 29 years it has been awarded. Stanford won for the 18th time, outscoring UF 1448.25-1314.00 in the final standings. Only 20 sports count for each school toward their final total, but the Cardinal have 35 to choose from while the Gators currently support 21 total sports.

5 » With just a handful of game remaining in the 2012 College World Series, which Florida was eliminated from on Monday, the end of the athletic season is nearly here which means the final standings for the 2012 Capital One Cup will be official shortly. As of press time, the Gators lead the men’s standings with 89 points (baseball has not been counted yet). The only way that Florida can lose their top spot is if Arkansas (currently ranked 17th with 39 points) wins the entire CWS (adding 60 points to their total) and UF is ranked eighth or worse when the final poll. In that scenario, the Gators would finish second by one point (99-98).

6 » The USA Baseball Collegiate National Team announced Monday that Florida sophomore right-handed pitcher Jonathon Crawford has been selected to play for the squad this summer. Crawford is one of six Southeastern Conference players to earn placement on the team, which consists of freshmen and sophomores from some of the nation’s top programs. He finished the 2012 season with a final record of 6-2 along with a 3.13 ERA and the team’s first solo no-hitter for in 21 years.

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FOUR BITS: All-Americans, Tebowmania, Hillier

1 » Five Florida Gators baseball players were named to the 2012 NCBWA Pro-Line Athletic Preseason All-American Team on Wednesday. Juniors catcher Mike Zunino and pitcher/first baseman Brian Johnson earned first team recognition, while senior infielder/outfielder Preston Tucker and junior P Austin Maddox were named to the second team. Sophomore P Karsten Whitson, coming off of a stellar freshman season (8-1, 2.40 ERA), was given a third-team nod.

2 » A pair of Florida senior volleyball players – right-side/setter Kelly Murphy and outside hitter Kristy Jaeckel were named Wednesday to the 2011 AVCA All-American Team. Murphy, who according to UF “started every match and set of her career,” earned first-team recognition; her cohort Jaeckel was named to the second team. Murphy and Jaeckel led the Gators to the Elite Eight of the 2011 NCAA Tournament this year.

3 » If you were thinking Tebowmania was going to slow down any time soon, then you were obviously kidding yourself. According to the Denver Post, Bonfire Brewing in Eagle, CO will be releasing a brand new beer inspired by Denver Broncos quarterback Tim Tebow called the Tebrew Sunday Sipper. The company explains that the beer will be made available to the masses once the signature 10 oz. glasses it ordered arrive. It is expected to sold locally only, so chances are that you’ll have to contact Bonfire directly if interested in sampling some of their brew.

In other Tebow-related news, Fathead on Tuesday released a “Tebowing” edition of their signature product, which quickly became the site’s No. 1 seller. The No. 2 Fathead sold Tuesday? The normal version of Tebow.

4 » Florida midfielder Janine Hillier, the lacrosse team’s fourth leading scorer one year ago, has decided to transfer to Stony Brook for her junior season. Hiller, a part of the Gators’ inaugural recruiting class, scored 34 goals along with six assists in 2011. She chose to transfer due to “personal reasons,” as cited by Inside Lacrosse, which notes that Stony Brook is “closer to Hillier’s hometown and her sister, Kim Hillier” is an assistant coach on the team.

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FOUR BITS: Elway apologizes to Tebow, Gators earn awards, volleyball falls, Macklin ready

1 » Nothing that Denver Broncos executive vice president John Elway has done to this point – whether it be verbal comments or body language – has shown that he fully supports quarterback Tim Tebow. Despite the fact that Tebow is winning games and doing so in a variety of ways, Elway recently answered “no” when asked by a radio station if he was “any closer to having your quarterback on this team” than he was a month earlier. With Tebow continuing to win and Elway receiving more and more criticism, he told FOX Sports this week that he “could have done a better job answering that question.” “It was a little too blunt,” he went on to say. “I should have said, ‘We’re not talking about the future. We’re talking about right now. Tim Tebow is definitely our guy.’”

Tebow recently avoided a question asking whether or not he felt the entire organization was behind him; that non-answer is likely what led Elway to personally apologize to his star, which FOX Sports notes he did recently. In fact, Elway has also told Tebow that he plans to work with him alongside QB coach Adam Gase in the offseason – not to “fix’ his throwing motion but rather to improve his accuracy. “I don’t believe you change a throwing motion. I do believe you can really help your accuracy by your feet,” Elway said. “That’s where, to me, Tim has so much upside. He’s improving. It’s just a matter of getting it burned into his reactions and mind.”

2 » The Florida Gators football team participated in its annual banquet on Saturday in which the team is presented a number of awards for everything from on-field performance to working hard in practice and how courageous a particular player may be throughout the season. Below are the 2011 award winners along with some award explanations, courtesy of the University of Florida.

Coaches’ Choice Awards
President’s Academic Award: Caleb Sturgis
Gene Elleson Community Service Award: Jesse Schmitt
Iron Gator Strength and Conditioning Award: William Green
Chris Patrick Courage Award: John Brantley
Most Valuable Offensive Scout Team Award: Tim Clark Defensive: Michael McNeely Special Teams: Hygens Succes and Solomon Schoonover

Players’ Choice Awards
Rex Farrior Most Team Spirited Offense: Jeff Demps Defense: Dominique Easley
Greg See Tenacity Award Offense: Matt Patchan Defense: Dominique Easley
MVP Offense: Chris Rainey Defense: Jon Bostic, Matt Elam ST: Caleb Sturgis
James W. Kynes Award (Best Mental/Physical Toughness): John Brantley
* Presented to the “player who best exemplifies the mental and physical toughness and ‘iron-man’ determination.’ The award is traditionally won by offensive linemen.
Ray Graves Award (Team MVP): Chris Rainey
* As voted on by the entire team.
Fergie Ferguson Leadership Award: Lerentte McCray, John Brantley
* Presented to the “player who displays outstanding leadership, character and courage.”
Captains: John Brantley, Chris Rainey, Jeff Demps, William Green, Jaye Howard

3 » Florida volleyball’s inspiring run in the 2011 NCAA Tournament came to an end Saturday evening as the No. 3 Illinois Illini defeated the Gators 3-1 in four sets (25-22, 23-25, 25-14, 25-20) in Elite Eight action at the Stephen C. O’Connell Center in Gainesville, FL. UF has been ranked higher heading into the tournament in recent memory, but Florida reached the regional final this year for the first time since 2005. Seniors setter/right-side Kelly Murphy and outside hitter Kristy Jaeckel once again led the way for their squad. Murphy’s triple-double (13 kills, 21 assists, 17 digs) was the 30th of her career. Murphy posted 19 kills and 11 digs for a double-double. Each will end their careers in the top 10 of a number of categories in the Gators’ record book. Transfer Colleen Ward, who joined the Illini, posted 23 kills and 11 digs in the contest for a double-double of her own. Florida finished the season 27-6 and was on a 10-match winning streak before falling to Illinois.

4 » As one Gators rookie waits to sign his deal, center Vernon Macklin has already agreed to terms with the Detroit Pistons, which selected him in the second round of the 2011 NBA Draft. Macklin, who stayed in shape during the lockout by maintaining his college conditioning and working out with NBA players like Oklahoma City forward Kevin Durant, Los Angeles Lakers F Metta World Peace, Atlanta center Al Horford and Chicago C Joakim Noah, recently told The Detroit News that he was star struck when he saw Detroit C Ben Wallace practicing. “It’s kind of a weird feeling,” he said. “Him going to Virginia Union, a lot of my family members idolized him and learned from him.”

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