Year in review: Florida Gators’ top 10 moments of 2017

By Adam Silverstein
December 27, 2017
Year in review: Florida Gators’ top 10 moments of 2017

Image Credit: ESPN Images

As it stands with just days to go until the end of the year, 2017 was another tumultuous 365 days for Florida Gators athletes. The football once again hit rock bottom, and basketball has both shown promise and disappointed immensely over the course of two seasons. In between, Florida has won and lost national championships and gone through the highs and lows associated with an athletic year.

But let’s take a pause from the negative and focus on the positive. The Gators had some tremendous achievements as an athletic program in 2017, and we’re here to break them all down below.

10. Albert saves small child by sacrificing his noggin: In the middle of Florida baseball’s run to the College World Series, some bad luck nearly struck. During a series opener at home against South Carolina, a foul ball was heading straight for the crowd, more specifically a small child who was not paying attention to the game at hand. That’s when Albert sprung into action and took one on the head. Find you a mascot who will risk his life for his fans.

9. Former Gators stand out in the pro ranks: Listing all of the accomplishments made by former Florida athletes now playing as professionals in 2017 would have been a fool’s errand. So let’s take a look at three major moments from the year that deserve special recognition. (a) Tim Tebow got off to an insanely hot start when he was promoted to the St. Lucie Mets, and this walk-off home run went viral instantly. (b) Washington Wizards guard Bradley Beal has put together a tremendous sixth NBA season with career-highs in many stat categories, but he also this year became the youngest player in NBA history to drain 700 three-pointers. (c) Billy Horschel had an up-and-down season — as is the case for most golfers — but played exceedingly well in winning the AT&T Byron Nelson. Not only did he drain a career-long 59-foot putt (see below), he went on to beat Jason Day (five top fives in majors) in a playoff to win the event.

8. Soccer, volleyball knock off top-ranked opponents in same night: Aug. 25 was a banner night for Florida as the 2017-18 athletic season kicked into gear. Within just hours of one another, Gators soccer and volleyball each took down the nation’s No. 1 team in their respective sports while playing at home in Gainesville, Florida [watch here]. Soccer earned a tight 3-2 win over Stanford, while Volleyball opened its season by knocking off Texas. The soccer win was the program’s second all-time over a No. 1-ranked team in Gainesville (2-1-1 overall record), while volleyball also won its second game against a No. 1 team at home (2-3) and moved to 3-14 all-time against top-ranked opponents.

7. Men’s track and field clinches back-to-back national titles: For the fourth time in the last six seasons, Florida men’s track and field captured the NCAA Outdoor Championship. Every national championship win is impressive, but for Gators head coach Mike Holloway, it has become second nature. Florida won its second straight crown on June 9, and Holloway picked up his seventh (four outdoor, three indoor) in the last eight years.

6. Florida falls in epic 17-inning WCWS Championship Series game: Rare that a loss will make a top-10 list of a season’s most exciting moments, but if you watched this game, you know why it’s here. No. 1 Florida softball was on a rocket of momentum entering the 2017 Women’s College World Series but saw that fizzle out during a seemingly endless battle with No. 10 Oklahoma in the first game of the Championship Series. The affair, — the longest in WCWSCS history and Florida softball history — started Monday and lasted into Tuesday morning with UF eventually falling 7-5 to OU. The Gators led early but were forced to tied a back-and-forth battle in the last out (and strike) of regulation.

Florida then fell behind 4-2 in the top of the 12th and tied it again in the last out of that inning. Ultimately, a three-run homer by Oklahoma with two outs in the top of the 17th served as the game-winning score. And while that dashed the Gators’ hopes of winning the series — despite there potentially being two games left to play — it was nevertheless an incredible moment for both teams and the sport of softball.

5. Women’s tennis routs Stanford to win national championship: It seems to always comes down to Florida and Stanford when the women’s tennis national title is on the line. And in 2017, for the seventh time in program history, it was the Gators prevailing as national champions. It was the first time UF competed for a national title since 2012 but the 14th in program history as it added the 2017 crown to titles from 1992, 1996, 1998, 2003 and 2011-12. The Gators have now beaten the Cardinal for the national title four times (1996, 2003, 2011, 2017), and Florida moved to 4-6 against Stanford with the title on the line. This time, the Gators won in dominant fashion, 4-1. The two programs have combined for 25 of the 36 all-time women’s tennis national titles.

4. Volleyball staves off USC match point, rallies to advance to Final Four: It was happening again. Florida volleyball, a championship-caliber team, was falling apart late in an NCAA Tournament to a lower-ranked opponent — this time on its home court. The Gators, who had not advanced to a Final Four since 2003, had lost in the Elite Eight round in two of the prior three and three of the prior six seasons. That would not be the case on Dec. 9 as the determination of head coach Mary Wise and grit of team coincided at just the right time to push Florida forward when all appeared to be falling apart.

Against the odds and with a steadily growing homecourt advantage, the Gators earned an incredible come-from-behind 3-2 (25-23, 20-25, 18-25, 26-24, 15-11) victory over USC. The Trojans held a 2-1 lead and 24-23 advantage to force match point in the fourth set, but the Gators spiked a ball off an opponent’s face to knot the set at 24 and closed on a 3-0 run to tie the match 2-2. USC went on to open the championship set up 3-0 and then 9-5, needing six points to win and advance. Wise called a timeout, and the Gators responded with a blistering 6-0 run to take a 11-9 lead. Though the Trojans tied things up, Florida ended the match on a 10-2 run, scoring the final four points to advance.

The Gators went on to fall in the title game, putting a bitter end to what was a magical season for the players and Wise, who was hoping to capture the first national championship of her storied and extensive career.

3. Florida baseball wins first national title in dominant fashion: For this program’s historic victory to not be the No. 1 moment of 2017 speaks not to this particular accomplishment but rather what else happened to the Gators this season. In terms of importance, this deserves the top spot in its own right. For the first time in program history, despite two prior opportunities, Florida baseball won a national championship by sweeping LSU in the College World Series Championship Series. After themselves being swept in their prior two appearances, the Gators did the same to the Tigers with a 6-1 title-clinching win on June 27.

In doing so, Florida became just the seventh athletic program in NCAA history to win national titles in the three major men’s sports. The Gators are the fourth to do so in the AP Top 25 era, and the first in SEC history to accomplish as much. UF also captured titles in all three sports in the last 10 years, making them the only team to do so in the last half-century. Play-by-play man Mick Hubert, who has called all of the aforementioned title games, understandably lost his mind. Fans absolutely erupted on Twitter. The run for this Gators baseball program will always be remembered. But what’s crazy is that it was only the third-best in an astonishing 2017.

2. Florida beats Tennessee with thrilling Hail Mary touchdown in The Swamp: The rivalry has always been furious, but the last few years have been insane with shocking endings, surprising comebacks and everything in between. Simply put, when the Gators and Vols have met as of late, something big is going to go down. That was undoubtedly the case on Sept. 16 when Florida was on the verge of losing consecutive games to Tennessee since 2003-04, the Gators had one final option: chuck it. Redshirt freshman quarterback Feleipe Franks threw an incredible 63-yard Hail Mary — yes, the play is considered a Hail Mary — touchdown hauled in by sophomore wide receiver Tyrie Cleveland for the game-winning score.

As it turns out, Florida actually beat Tennessee on the same play twice in three seasons. Gator Nation could not contain itself watching that moment go down, particularly considering it was in The Swamp. And it would wind up being one of a handful of high moments in an otherwise disastrous Gators football season. Still, the play stands on its own as one of the top plays in Florida football history.

1. Extra Cheese: Chris Chiozza’s epic OT buzzer-beater sends Florida into Elite Eight: Some moments surpass fandom and extend into the history of individual sports. There are dozens of Hail Marys and buzzer-beaters every season, but few truly exceed a single night’s highlight package. This is one of them.

The game was over. Star big man Nigel Hayes hit two free throws with four seconds remaining in overtime to put the eight-seed Wisconsin up two on four-seed Florida in the Sweet 16 of the 2017 NCAA Tournament. And then Chris Chiozza happened. With no timeouts and the entire game on the line, Chiozza took an inbounds pass and drove all the way to a couple inches in front of Wisconsin’s three-point line before hoisting up an off-balance floater from beyond the arc and draining it to send the Gators into the Elite Eight just minutes before 1 a.m. ET.

The reaction was immediate, wide-ranging and one of pure joy (well, except from Wisconsin supporters). Florida, college basketball and general sports fans alike watching the pivotal NCAA Tournament game could not believe what they just witnessed. Particularly seeing as it came at the end of a tremendous sequence for the Gators. The junior point guard’s game-winning three came just seconds after he hit a layup to tie the game prior to Hayes’ free throws. That was made possible by an incredible chase down block by graduate transfer guard Canyon Barry, who wiped a potential two-score game off the board with an incredible hustle play. The Gators improved to 9-1 all-time in Sweet 16 games and advanced to the Elite Eight out off the round for the eighth straight time.

For a moment early that morning in New York, Chiozza became the world’s most famous man in the World’s Most Famous Arena. The moment actually lasted less than two seconds as Chiozza briefly stood on the block under the hoop pointing to the rafters that contain championship banners and retired jerseys as a buzz enveloped him and took command of his senses. Talk about an emotional overload. The literal buzzer sounded, the Madison Square Garden crowd erupted, and fingers click-clacked across the nation as everyone watching the most thrilling game of the tournament could not believe what they saw at nearly 1 a.m. on the East Coast.

The Gators had some work cut out for themselves after the game. Considering Florida tipped off at 10:13 p.m. ET on a Friday — the latest local start time for a UF non-exhibition game since at least 1998 (possibly ever) — and did not finish the contest until early Saturday, it had just 37 hours to prepare for its next game, one it subsequently lost to South Carolina.

That was to come in the future. On that Saturday morning, The City That Never Sleeps earned its nickname, and Chiozza set the bar for 2017, year of The Big Cheese.


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