SIX BITS: Noah, Murphy, Delta, volleyball, Tebow

1 » Chicago Bulls center Joakim Noah has long held up former South African president Nelson Mandela as one of his idols. So for Noah to easily have his best game of the 2013-14 season on the day of Mandela’s passing was certainly no surprise. On Thursday, Noah posted his second-straight double-double with 17 points (on 6-of-9 shooting) and a season-high 15 rebounds in a 107-87 win over Miami. After the contest, he was interviewed by TNT’s Craig Sager and ended the conversation like this:

2 » The Florida Gators are expected to have major frontcourt troubles next season with big-bodied seniors – center Patric Young and forwards Casey Prather and Will Yeguete – all scheduled to graduate. One of its other big men is on shaky ground and a fifth, who has yet to enroll, could be a one-and-done player. Facing a potential roster that would have its two tallest players – current redshirt sophomore F Dorian Finney-Smith and five-star incoming F Devin Robinson (Christchurch, VA) listed as 6-foot-8 – the Gators may have found some help in the form of current Duke redshirt sophomore F Alex Murphy. The brother of Erik Murphy, Alex has decided to leave the Blue Devils at the end of the fall 2013 semester and may very well be headed to Gainesville, FL. He would have to sit out two semesters per NCAA rules and would not be eligible until next spring, but Alex Murphy would nevertheless be a much-needed addition for UF. OnlyGators.com is still working to confirm his transfer destination as of press time.

3 » Florida found another way to disappoint its fans this week. In a story overlooked for the last few days by OnlyGators.com, UF’s basketball team made headlines by displacing 50 passengers on an Atlanta, GA-bound Sunday flight when Delta decided to help the Gators by chartering a new plane for the team to Storrs, CT for its showdown with UConn. According to The Gainesville Sun, a maintenance delay grounded the plane that the team usually charters, so Delta stepped in to help at the expense of customers that had already purchased tickets on the flight. “Passengers from flight 5059 were accommodated on other flights and given vouchers valid for use through Delta for future trips,” a spokesman told the paper. Florida has gone above and beyond to try and deflect any blame heading its way. The Gators have claimed ignorance regarding Delta’s decision, which he company took completely on its own shoulders.

Check out the statement and three more BITS…after the break!

Continue Reading » SIX BITS: Noah, Murphy, Delta, volleyball, Tebow

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FOUR BITS: NCAA, volleyball, Mularkey, Dillman

1 » The NCAA on Tuesday chose to recognize some of the top players and teams that have participated in NCAA Tournaments, as well as many of the top moments to occur in those events, over the last 75 years. The organization picked the 2006-07 incarnation of the Florida Gators as one of the top-25 teams and also recognized center Joakim Noah as one of the top-75 players ever to participate in the tournament. Noah was named Most Outstanding Player of the 2006 tourney after he registered a then-record 29 blocked shots in the event and averaged 13.5 points and 9.5 rebounds. Both Noah and the 2006-07 UF team are finalists in their respective categories, which will be voted on before awards are presented at the 2013 NCAA Final Four in Atlanta, GA.

2 » Florida junior middle back Chloe Mann, who put together an impressive 2012 campaign for a Gators volleyball program that exceeded its preseason expectations, was named a First Team All-American by the American Volleyball Coaches Association (AVCA) on Wednesday. Mann was honored along with outside hitter Ziva Recek, who was named Freshman of the Year by the organization. Florida as a team lasted until the Sweet 16 round of the NCAA Tournament where it fell to three-seed Texas. The Gators concluded the season with a 27-5 record and their first SEC Championship since 2010.

3 » Former Florida tight end Mike Mularkey, now head coach of the Jacksonville Jaguars, was hospitalized on Monday on the advice of a team trainer after feeling ill at his team’s facility. He was released shortly after being admitted and was healthy enough to return to practice on Tuesday. Mularkey’s first year with Jacksonville has been anything but productive as the Jaguars are currently 2-11 and have lost nine of their last 10 games. This is his second NFL head coaching stint as he previously led the Buffalo Bills to a 14-18 combined record from 2004-05.

4 » As much as head coach Will Muschamp has been credited with turning around the Gators football program, strength and conditioning coach Jeff Dillman is in many ways equally deserving of praise. Dilliman recently sat down with his hometown paper, the Richmond County Daily Journal, and discussed both how he arrived at Florida and what he thinks of what the team has accomplished this season. Throughout the year, Dillman received plenty of credit for the team’s performance against LSU and how it stood up to the long season from a conditioning perspective. In the interview, he turned around and put the praise back on Muschamp for how the team was run this year. “At the end of the day, it’s the program,” he said. “It goes back to Coach Muschamp and the kids because they worked their butts off. We all have a job to do and Coach Muschamp lets me do my job. All the kids come in and believe in what we are trying to accomplish. Coach is big on keeping it real. My staff and I will be honest with a player, but we also want to keep a positive environment. I have a philosophy of actions trigger feelings and feelings trigger actions. Good things come out of being positive and negative things come out of being negative. I always try to be positive while training an athlete.”

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FOUR BITS: Cunningham, Gilbert, volley, Quinn

1 » New England Patriots defensive end Jermaine Cunningham has been suspended four games by the NFL for violating its performance-enhancing substances policy. The substance Cunningham used was not disclosed and it is currently unknown if he already filed or plans to file an appeal. Cunningham is the fourth former Florida Gators defender to receive a four-game suspension for PEDs since 2010. New England linebacker Brandon Spikes (2010), Cleveland Browns cornerback Joe Haden (2012) and New York Giants safety Will Hill (2012) have missed four games each. All three claimed their positive tests resulted from an ingredient contained in ADHD medication like Adderall. Cunningham would be eligible to return in the playoffs.

2 » Pittsburgh Steelers right tackle Marcus Gilbert is one of four former Gators on his team and one of three Florida offensive linemen that got injured this season. Unfortunately for Gilbert, while center Maurkice Pouncey and left tackle Max Starks were able to return to action, he has been sidelined since Week 6 with an ankle injury and was officially placed on the team’s injured reserve on Monday. He is the third former Gators player to be knocked out for the season with an injury, joining Buffalo Bills wide receiver David Nelson (ACL) and Patriots running back Jeff Demps (leg).

3 » Following in the footsteps of the soccer program, which cleaned up at the Southeastern Conference‘s annual awards announcement, Florida volleyball matched the program with three major awards and a number of placement on the All-SEC teams. Junior middle back Chloe Mann captured SEC Player of the Year honors, outside hitter Ziva Recek brought home SEC Freshman of the Year honors and Mary Wise was named SEC Coach of the Year for the 13th time. The Gators note that “this is the first time since 2000 and second time in program history for Florida” to win all three awards. Mann is the 17th player in team history to win Player of the Year, and Recek is the fourth UF freshman to be honored by the league in that capacity. Also honored Monday were junior setter Taylor Brauneis and senior right-side Tangerine Wiggs, who joined Mann and Recek on the All-SEC first team; senior MB Betsey Smith on the All-SEC second team; and Recek again on the All-Freshman team.

4 » Three members of the Gators football team have been named finalists for yearly national awards. Redshirt senior kicker Caleb Sturgis is one of three finalists (Florida State’s Dustin Hopkins, Tulane’s Cairo Santos) for the 2012 Lou Groza Award and sophomore punter Kyle Christy is one of three finalists (Louisiana Tech’s Ray Allen, Ball State’s Scott Kovanda) for the Ray Guy Award, both of which will be announced on Thursday, Dec. 6 at 7:30 p.m. live on ESPN.

Joining them is defensive coordinator Dan Quinn, who is one of five finalists for the 2012 Broyles Award, which is presented to the top assistant college football coach in the nation. The other finalists are Georgia offensive coordinator Mike Bobo, Notre Dame DC Bob Diaco, Texas A&M OC Kliff Kingsbury and Stanford DC Derek Mason. Quinn has UF’s defense ranked top-15 in the nation in pass efficiency defense (No. 1), scoring defense (No. 3), yards per play (No. 3), yards per attempt (No. 4), third-down defense (No. 5), rush defense (No. 6), interceptions (No. 6), yards per rush (No. 7), red zone touchdowns (No. 13) and red zone defense (No. 15).

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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: 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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