Wednesday May 20, 2015 A Florida-Arkansas primer for tonight's SEC Tournament matchup
Updated: 11:04am, May 27
Welcome to Carter's Corner!
Updated: 11:04am, May 27
GAINESVILLE, Fla. – The Gators make their debut in the SEC Tournament tonight when they face Arkansas, a 2-1 winner over Tennessee on Tuesday.
As the fourth seed, Florida had a first-round bye Tuesday. The Gators last won the tournament in 2011, which marked the program’s first title in 20 years.
This is an event dominated by the SEC West over the years. A team from the West Division has won 16 of the last 19 seasons. Only Florida (2011), Vanderbilt (2007) and South Carolina (2004) broke through during that span.
Still, this is a Florida team that has the talent to make a run. The Gators made it to the championship game last season before losing to LSU, which has won the past two tournaments.
“No. 1, you want to be playing your best baseball at the end of the year,” Gators head coach Kevin O’Sullivan said. “This tournament forces you to minimize your mistakes. You have to play clean. If you don’t play clean you are going to end up back on the bus going home.”
Let’s take a look at the Florida-Arkansas matchup scheduled to start after the LSU-Auburn game, which starts at 5:30 p.m. ET. The games at Hoover (Ala.) Metropolitan Stadium are live on the SEC Network:
PLAYER TO WATCH: Arkansas OF Andrew Benintendi, the first Razorback to be named SEC Player of the Year. Benintendi led the SEC in batting average (.415) and home runs (17).
“To hit .400 in any league is quite an accomplishment,” O’Sullivan said. “I’m just glad he is sophomore-eligible for the draft. He is well-deserving of player of the year.”
You can bet Florida’s pitching staff watched closely how four Tennessee pitchers approached facing Benintendi. He went 0-for-5 on Tuesday night and struck out in his first three at-bats.
PITCHING MATCHUP: Florida sophomore right-hander Dane Dunning (5-2, 3.54 ERA) faces Arkansas freshman right-hander Keaton McKinney (6-1, 2.83 ERA).
Both were drafted out of high school and are making their first career starts in the SEC Tournament.
Dunning, 6-foot-3 and 190 pounds, struck out eight in four innings while on a pitch count May 5 against USF. The 6-5, 220-pound McKinney made 14 starts during the regular season, striking out 41 in 76 1/3 innings. He really heated up late, going 5-0 with a 1.56 ERA in his last six starts.
Florida’s Kevin O’Sullivan: “Arkansas is typical Arkansas. They’ve got really good starting pitching, they’ve got a deep bullpen and I think they have a veteran lineup. I see a lot of ourselves in them to be honest.”
Arkansas’ Dave Van Horn: “I think about that team a lot. I remember being 12-12, pretty much dead and buried by probably everybody in the country that follows us and college baseball and probably in our own state. When we started [pitching] we started winning. Started winning close games instead of giving games away.’’
NOTABLES: First meeting of season between the schools … Florida is 2-1 against Arkansas in the SEC Tournament, last facing the Razorbacks in 2010 … Arkansas went 16-7 over its final eight SEC series, the only team to not lose a conference series over that span … The Gators showed their comeback ability in a pair of wins last weekend against Auburn, overcoming early deficits in both victories. Still, Florida is much better when scoring first, going 29-4 … Arkansas advanced on shortstop Michael Bernal’s walk-off double with two outs in bottom of ninth inning Tuesday … Arkansas has won 19 of its last 24 games.
Updated: 8:27am, May 16
GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Aaron Rhodes had a very specific task Friday night.
The fourth-year junior from Venice (Fla.) High, one of three Gators to be honored at today’s final regular-season game as part of Senior Day, was summoned from the bullpen by head coach Kevin O’Sullivan to keep the game close.
Auburn scored three runs in the third inning and threatened to win on back-to-back nights at McKethan Stadium to put a damper on the start of the postseason for the Gators.
Rhodes replaced starter A.J. Puk (3 ⅓ IP, 3 H, 3 R, 2 ER, 3 BB, 6 SO) with a runner on and one out in the top of the fourth. The ballpark seemed on the verge of a nap.
Rhodes needed 24 pitches to get two outs to end the inning, but no runs scored. And then in the bottom of the inning, the Gators scored three times to tie the game and energize the crowd.
Pete Alonso singled up the middle to score Josh Tobias with the tying run, and Alonso’s sacrifice fly in the sixth proved the game-winner in Florida’s 4-3 comeback win.
Rhodes, who has bounced back and forth from spot starter to long reliever in his UF career, played a crucial role on this night. He earned his eighth career win by limiting Auburn to one hit over 3 ⅔ scoreless innings. Rhodes retired nine consecutive batters during one stretch.
“It means a lot, especially on Senior Day to go out and do that for everybody on the team,’’ he said. “It’s crazy to think that my career is almost over here at Florida. It was exciting to go out there and throw up a few zeros and keep the team in it.”
Friday night’s outing was Rhodes’ most important of the season as Florida continues to jockey for position in next week’s SEC Tournament. Vanderbilt’s victory Friday night clinched the SEC East for the Commodores -- Florida is two back with one to play -- but the Gators want to head into the SEC Tournament in the right frame of mind.
“He did an awesome job. He was nails,’’ said Alonso. “That’s all I’ve got to say. He did a really good job of picking up A.J. At this point in the season that’s what we need to do, find a way to get outs, find a way to manufacture runs, because at this point in the year it’s imperative that we win. We want to have home-field advantage.”
Rhodes threw 57 pitches, 37 for strikes. He struck out three and walked one. In 14 appearances, Rhodes’ only other victory came April 18 in a one-inning relief outing at Mississippi State.
His approach was simple.
“Get early outs to keep my pitch count down,” Rhodes said. “I feel pretty comfortable coming out of the pen just because I have experience. If they need me to start, I’ll start, I’ll do whatever it takes to win. I don’t care.”
Unless he makes a surprise appearance today, in his final regular-season appearance for the Gators, task accomplished for Aaron Rhodes.
Updated: 7:38pm, May 14
Jenny Rowland -- known as Jenny Ester growing up -- at the 1989 U.S. World Trials.
GAINESVILLE, Fla. – The search that landed Florida’s new gymnastics coach got a boost from the Gators’ ex-coach.
When Rhonda Faehn announced last month she was resigning to take a job as senior vice president of USA Gymnastics, UF Athletic Director Jeremy Foley consulted with Faehn about potential replacements.
Jenny Rowland was on the list.
“I mean, probably her strongest advocate was Rhonda, who certainly has a lot of credibility with us,” Foley said.
Foley announced Saturday the hiring of Rowland, who has spent the last five years as an assistant and associate head coach at Auburn.
This is the 40-year-old Rowland’s first opportunity to run her own program. And it’s not just any program. The Gators have won three consecutive national championships to join the sport’s elite college programs.
“The thing that excited me the most about her is obviously following a great coach and not being intimidated by that,’’ Foley said. “[She] wants to build on Rhonda Faehn’s legacy, proud to accept that responsibility and wants to build a great program here.”
Faehn and Rowland are by no means strangers. In the small world of elite-level gymnastics, the two crossed paths regularly in the SEC. However, their friendship dates back to when both were gymnasts instead of gymnastics coaches.
“Rhonda has been a huge impact in my life,’’ Rowland said. “She’s just a few years older but I remember we were both on the National Team at the same time; I was on the juniors and Rhonda was on the seniors. I’ve watched her grow up in the national scene and in the collegiate scene starting as an assistant coach at Nebraska and then continuing at Florida.
“She’s just been a huge role model, a great mentor to me and I just can’t thank her enough for the support and her helping me out through this process.”
Rowland is in transition mode as her two kids finish school in Alabama. She inherits a Florida team that is expected to be in national title contention in her first season with the return of senior All-American Bridget Sloan and a talented supporting cast.
Rowland looks forward to coaching Sloan rather than judge her.
“I have to say I’ve known Bridget Sloan since she was 12, whether she knows that or not,’’ Rowland said. “I’ve been judging her and following her gymnastics career for quite some time, so I’m very familiar with her gymnastics, with her personality. I’ve been very fortunate to have been on the floor as a judge while she’s a competitor.”
In addition to her past ties to Faehn, Rowland also has Florida ties. Rowland lived in Florida for about five years when she was a young teenager, training in the Largo area. She later moved to Oklahoma and competed in college at Arizona State.
Rowland said her background as an elite-level gymnast can help her connect with Florida’s talented roster as she tries to build relationships. She knows what is required to compete and attain success at the sport’s top level.
Rowland has now reached the highest level as a coach in college gymnastics. To help her get started at Florida, Rowland will have at least one of Faehn’s assistants to make the transition as seamless as possible. Adrian Burde, who has coached vault and tumbling for the Gators since 2011, is staying at UF.
Rowland can’t wait to move into the O’Connell Center and lift off.
“It has been a long-term goal for me [to become a head coach],’’ she said. “It wasn’t until recently that I knew I was ready to take the jump. I have a great mentor who has taught me a lot over the past five years, [head coach] Jeff Graba here at Auburn, and Rhonda has also been a great mentor for me outside of my current situation.
“It was time. I was ready to spread my wings and I’m ready to fly.”
Updated: 3:47pm, May 14
GAINESVILLE, Fla. – The No. 7-ranked Florida baseball team opens a three-game series against Auburn tonight at McKethan Stadium to conclude the regular season.
The Gators (38-14, 17-10) must get help, but they technically remain alive for the SEC title after winning two of three games last weekend at Vanderbilt (37-16, 18-9).
To win their second consecutive SEC crown, Florida has to sweep Auburn and have No. 1-ranked LSU (44-8, 19-7) get swept at South Carolina, Vanderbilt lose at least once at Alabama, and Texas A&M (42-9, 17-9) lose its series at Ole Miss.
If the Gators can overcome Vanderbilt to win the SEC East, they will be no worse than the No. 2 seed in next week’s SEC Tournament.
Regardless of how this weekend plays out, the Gators have put together a solid season in head coach Kevin O’Sullivan’s eighth year.
He told reporters Wednesday afternoon that the regular season has been a success.
“Not every season is going to go perfect. There’s going to be ups and downs, but if you told me every year you’ve got three games left and you’re still in the hunt, I’d take that every year,’’ said O’Sullivan. “I’m really encouraging our guys to play the best baseball they can and not to put too much stock in [the conference standings].”
Before Florida starter Logan Shore (6-5, 2.85 ERA) throws the first pitch tonight, here are five reasons the Gators are still in the hunt with three games left:
GLOVES OF GLUE
Florida ranks third in the SEC in hitting (.296) and fifth in pitching (3.41 ERA), but when it comes to fielding, no other team comes close. The Gators own a .985 fielding percentage and have made just 30 errors in 52 games, 11 fewer than Arkansas, which has the second-lowest error total in the league. The Gators are especially strong up the middle where shortstop Richie Martin, second baseman Dalton Guthrie and center fielder Buddy Reed chase down a lot of balls that others don’t get to. And then there is senior third baseman Josh Tobias, who has handled 101 chances this season without an error. Give that guy a Gold Glove.
The Gators have played 13 three-game series – nine of them in conference – and are 12-1 in the third game of the series. In SEC play, Florida is 8-1 in the final game of a three-game series and four of those games determined which team won the series. To still have a shot at the SEC title, Florida won the rubber game at Georgia and at Vanderbilt the past two weekends.
Thankfully, college baseball seems to have discovered a happy medium between too much offense and not enough. A new ball with lowered seams has helped increase offense after teams averaged a record-low 0.39 home runs per game last season in records dating to 1970. The Gators have benefited like others. Florida has hit 48 home runs entering tonight’s game after belting just 26 a season ago. But more than home runs, this is a more balanced lineup than the Gators had the past two seasons. Tobias is hitting a team-high .361 and is one of five starters hitting .300 or better: Martin (.310), Reed (.316), left fielder Harrison Bader (.306) and right fielder Ryan Larson (.316). Meanwhile, freshman catcher/designated hitter JJ Schwarz leads the team in home runs (14) and RBIs (54).
BACK OF BULLPEN
The Gators have a good starting rotation led by Shore, but the group has been inconsistent and forced O’Sullivan to shift roles and rely on the bullpen perhaps more than he expected. However, due to an abundance of pitching depth, Florida has managed just fine. Senior lefty Bobby Poyner (4-1, 2.36 ERA, 3 saves) and junior-college transfer Taylor Lewis (4-1, 1.78, 6 saves) have been keys to Florida picking up wins when the starters have struggled. Also, freshman right-hander Alex Faedo (4-1, 3.74) has been invaluable as a spot starter (15 games, 8 starts) when A.J. Puk (7-3, 4.73) and Dane Dunning (5-2, 3.54) have run into rough patches.
Florida’s recruiting class was ranked No. 1 in the country and now we know why. Whether it’s been Schwarz’s power, Guthrie’s defense, Faedo’s arm, Jeremy Vasquez’s bat or the catching of Mike Rivera, this freshman class has contributed since the first weekend of the season.
Updated: 2:14pm, May 13
GAINESVILLE, Fla. – Gators head coach Jim McElwain announced Wednesday that third-string quarterback Skyler Mornhinweg has transferred to Columbia.
Mornhinweg signed with the Gators in 2012 after finishing his high school career as the all-time leading passer at Saint Joseph’s Prep in Philadelphia. Serving as the emergency starter after Jeff Driskel and Tyler Murphy suffered season-ending injuries in 2013, Mornhinweg started the final three games of the season.
Mornhinweg appeared in one game last season but did not throw a pass. He finishes his UF career 44 of 63 for 344 yards, three touchdowns and one interception.
“We wish him the best," McElwain said. “Would love to have him stay here. Moving forward, as you guys all know, that position, especially in this league now, you need to have some depth.”
Mornhinweg’s departure leaves the Gators with only two scholarship quarterbacks on the roster: sophomore Treon Harris and redshirt freshman Will Grier. Walk-on Jacob Guy took extended reps during spring practice with Harris out due to a family tragedy and remains on the roster.
Meanwhile, the Gators are expected to bring in a transfer quarterback over the summer to help build depth at the position.
“We’re constantly looking at that spot as well as some other spots on the roster to try and make sure we get some needed bodies in those areas,” McElwain said.
JACKSON UPDATE: Redshirt freshman defensive back J.C. Jackson is no longer a UF student. McElwain said Wednesday that Jackson is not enrolled in classes and is working to figure out the next step in his future.
“He’s got a lot of things he’s dealing with right now," McElwain said. “We’ll support him and help him do what he can, but right now he’s not enrolled in school and dealing with some things outside that are a lot bigger than the Florida Gators.”
While a physically talented player, Jackson has faced multiple issues off the field. He faces three counts of armed robbery from an incident in Gainesville on April 18.
Jackson was a two-way standout at Immokalee High prior to arriving at UF. However, he was redshirted last season following shoulder surgery.
GAINESVILLE, Fla. – The introductory press conference for new UF men’s basketball coach Michael White drew a crowd on Monday.
Gators football coach Jim McElwain, women’s basketball coach Amanda Butler, and dozens of University Athletic Association personnel stopped by to hear what White had to say.
It was the first press conference to introduce a new Gators head coach since Billy Donovan took the job on March 27, 1996 – or 6,985 days according to TimeandDate.com.
Of course, nearly all the state’s major newspapers had writers documenting White’s debut. Here is a look at coverage from some traditional media:
--Gators need to cease and desist comparing Michael White to Billy Donovan writes Mike Bianchi of The Orlando Sentinel.
--New Gators basketball coach White: ‘I’m not into begging for recruits’ writes Palm Beach Post columnist Dave George.
--White was committed to Louisiana Tech until something ‘special’ came up writes Sean Isabella of the Monroe (La.) News-Star.
--New UF coach embraces opportunity to follow Donovan writes Gainesville Sun columnist Pat Dooley.
--Gators coach White returns to roots (sort of) writes Joey Johnston of The Tampa Tribune.
--A good read from Antonya English of The Tampa Bay Times: For Michael White, Gators basketball chance feels just right.
--White, Gators appear to be a perfect fit writes Florida Times-Union columnist Gene Frenette.
--Florida introduces Mike White as head coach of men’s basketball writes Graham Hall of the Independent Florida Alligator.
Updated: 6:48am, May 10
GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Gators freshman Josie Kuhlman was unfazed by her taller opponent in Saturday’s NCAA Tournament match.
Once the 5-foot-6 Kuhlman takes the court, she usually handles business as one of Florida’s top newcomers. Saturday was no different as she faced Georgia Tech’s Rasheeda McAdoo, whose 5-foot-11 frame depicts athletic grace and sturdy genes.
“We’re pretty familiar with each other,’’ Kuhlman said afterward. “I knew what to expect coming into the match.”
In Florida’s 4-0 sweep of the Yellow Jackets on a blistering afternoon at the Alfred A. Ring Tennis Complex, it was Kuhlman who clinched the victory for the Gators.
Her victory over McAdoo at No. 2 singles (6-3, 6-2) in 1 hour, 47 minutes served as Florida’s official invitation to the Sweet 16 next weekend in Waco, Texas.
“I thought we played great,’’ Florida head coach Roland Thornqvist said. “I was very pleased to see we were the aggressive team. I thought our players were very determined.”
As the Kuhlman-McAdoo match unfolded, a man in a blue and gold T-shirt with “McAdoo 14” on the back watched closely as he sat alone away from the main part of the stands where most of the spectators were seated.
He would occasionally glance at what appeared to be a notebook in his hand.
Third-year Georgia Tech coach Rodney Harmon, who replaced Bryan Shelton three years ago when Shelton was hired by UF as men’s tennis coach, said the tall and lean man now in his early 60s often takes notes during Yellow Jackets matches.
“Bob is great. He is a tremendous supporter,’’ Harmon said. “What’s great about him is he is a tremendous student of the game of tennis. He’s taking notes and stats. When he’s taking stats, after [the match] he’ll tell me, ‘this is how many first serves, this is how many’ ... He really wants the girls to do their best and pursue excellence.”
Perhaps there have been other NBA Hall of Famers to stop by and watch a tennis match at UF, but Bob McAdoo was the only one there Saturday.
His daughter Rasheeda is a Georgia Tech sophomore after blossoming on the elite junior tennis circuit as a standout at American Heritage Prep in Boca Raton.
McAdoo, after 18 seasons as an assistant coach with the Miami Heat, moved into a scouting and community relations position this season. He recently returned to North Carolina to pay his respects to his college coach, Dean Smith.
Kuhlman was born well after McAdoo’s prolific NBA career ended with a pair of championship rings with the Showtime Lakers of the 1980s, but she knew all about his daughter and her backstory before they took the court Saturday.
“I’ve actually played her a lot,’’ said Kuhlman, who is from Ponte Vedra. “We’re both from Florida, so growing up in juniors, we actually played a lot together. We’re friends and stuff. It was interesting playing her again.”
After the match ended, McAdoo remained seated as the rest of the crowd departed, checking over his notebook. A trio of strangers stood nearby chatting as he processed information from his daughter’s match.
In a nearby conference room a few minutes later, Harmon expected to catch up with McAdoo once he finished his postmatch press conference.
“What he’ll do is, he’ll come to me first and ask me what I saw technically,’’ Harmon said. “And then he’ll say, ‘well based on what you saw technically and the things you guys have been working on, these are the trends I saw while I was charting.’
“To be honest, it’s really, really helpful because we don’t have time to chart it [during a match]. We’re busy. He’ll give you the empirical data. And he’s got a good sense of humor. His biggest thing for, not just his daughter but all the girls, is to work hard. He was such a hard worker and made himself into a great NBA player.”
Updated: 7:59pm, May 8
GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- The wait for former Gators defensive lineman Dante Fowler Jr. to play in his first NFL game just got longer.
Fowler, the third overall pick in last week's NFL Draft, suffered a torn ACL in his left knee during his first rookie minicamp workout with the Jacksonville Jaguars on Friday afternoon.
ESPN's Adam Schefter confirmed the news late this afternoon from a league source.
Jaguars' 1st-round pick Dante Fowler tore his ACL and is out for the season, league source tells ESPN. Just wow.— Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) May 8, 2015
The Jaguars confirmed Fowler's injury but did not immediately release information about its severity.
In his three seasons at Florida, Fowler never missed a game, playing in all 37 games during his three seasons.
Fowler posted a pair of tweets after news broke of his torn ACL:
Hey everybody I'll be fine thank you for your prayers and encouragement , I really appreciate that!— Dante fowler (@dantefowler) May 8, 2015
This gives me time to get my body bigger and stronger and I'll be back better than ever ❗️😜— Dante fowler (@dantefowler) May 8, 2015
Updated: 1:46pm, May 8
GAINESVILLE, Fla. – It didn't take the Gators long to find Billy Donovan's replacement.
They found him in Ruston, La., where for the past four seasons Michael White has won 101 games as head coach of Louisiana Tech University.
White's hiring Thursday night created a stir in the college basketball world and in Gator Nation.
While a relative unknown to many Florida fans accustomed to unprecedented success the past 19 seasons under Billy D, White is no secret in gyms around the country.
Here is what Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski had to say about White late in the 2012-13 season when Louisiana Tech was rolling. (White's father is Kevin White, the current athletic director at Duke and former AD at Notre Dame).
"I better watch out. This kid's good. He's my AD's son."
Krzyzewski was joking of course, but he made his point: White was viewed as an up-and-comer early on during his tenure at Louisiana Tech.
Florida will officially introduce the 38-year-old White as its head coach on Monday during a press conference on campus.
For now, here are some fresh links from around the Internet to catch you up on White:
--Florida passed on big names, bet on Michael White to keep Gators great writes Gary Parrish of CBSSports.com.
--Florida completed a swift and stealthy search to replace Billy Donovan writes Pat Forde of Yahoo.com.
--Gainesville Sun columnist Pat Dooley writes that Florida AD Jeremy Foley is pumped to hire the coach to replace the irreplaceable.
--Orlando Sentinel columnist Mike Bianchi writes that “much like a young Donovan, White is a disciple of a pressing, pushing pyrotechnic style of basketball.”
--Andy Hutchins of AlligatorArmy.com offers his take on Florida’s hiring of White to replace Donovan.
Meanwhile, you can watch ESPN.com college basketball analyst Jeff Goodman discuss Florida's hiring of White in the video below:
Updated: 8:21am, May 7
GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- The climb back to competitive golf seemed far in the distance for Florida’s Anna Young in those first weeks and months after a right wrist injury ended her junior season.
Young was so far removed from the lineup that for the first six weeks after doctors shut her down -- she injured the wrist while doing Burpees as part of her cardio fitness routine -- Young couldn’t even use her right hand to putt.
“As much as it sucks getting hurt, I learned a lot about myself and a lot about my game,’’ Young said Wednesday afternoon following a practice round at Lonnie Poole Golf Course in Raleigh, N.C., site of this week’s NCAA Regional.
Young did what she could to stay connected to the game. When she stopped by the practice green, Young putted using only her left hand.
Seems like a small detail, but in the game of golf, a small adjustment can make a huge difference.
The 21-year-old Young, who at 14 decided she wanted golf to be her future, discovered a nuance in her game that has helped her since she returned.
“When I putt my right hand likes to manipulate the clubface if I’m unsure about a shot,’’ she said. “Once I was able to use only my left hand, it took that manipulation out of it.”
Prior to her injury, Young always considered her ball-striking ability the strength of her game. In the year and a half since, her short game has made strides to close the gap.
That improvement is what helped Young (75-73-72--220) tie teammate Karolina Vickova for the Gators’ best score at the SEC Tournament last month in her first appearance in the event.
A native of Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Young began her college career at Tulsa. However, after her freshman season, she decided to transfer to Florida to be closer to her swing coach in Orlando.
She played in nine tournaments as a sophomore and started her junior season by winning the Cougar Classic in Charleston, S.C., shooting a final-round 67 to win the three-day tournament at 5-under par.
A month later her season was over because of the wrist injury.
Slowly, Young has worked her way back into the lineup. She finished tied for 10th at the SunTrust Gator Invitational earlier this season and tied for 17th at the SEC Tournament. Young’s improved play has her confident she can help the Gators at the NCAA Raleigh Regional, which runs today through Saturday.
The top six teams advance to the NCAA Championships on May 22-27 at The Concession Golf Club in Bradenton.
“I’m really happy I played well because I didn’t hit the ball very well,’’ she said. “I was playing a 30-yard slice with most of my clubs and shots, so I was kind of working my way around the course. I had to get a lot of up and downs to play as well as I did. I’ve been working on my short game a lot, especially after I got injured. I got so good at certain shots that it really helped me.”
Young expects her short game to factor prominently in how well she plays. She said the greens are fast and tricky at the regional site.
With her UF career nearing a close, Young’s mindset is one of an explorer about to start a new journey. A psychology major, Young plans to turn professional later this summer and fulfill a dream.
“I know I have a long road and a lot of hard work ahead of me, but I’m excited to go,’’ she said. “This is exactly what I want to do. I just can’t imagine being done and not getting better and improving. If you practice right, you can get better if you have the right mindset.”
However, she will remain an amateur through late July when she returns home to Saskatoon to play in the Canadian Women’s Amateur Championship on her home course, Riverside Country Club.
“I was really hoping it would be there,’’ she said.
But this week, her focus is on navigating Lonnie Poole Golf Course and advancing to the NCAA Tournament. The 18-team field features five SEC teams (UF, South Carolina, LSU, Mississippi State and Alabama).
The Gators are the No. 5 seed.
“[The SEC Tournament] was the best I played since I had been injured,’’ she said. "Even though I didn’t win, it was a win for me. I’m really ready to do it all again this week and give it all I got.”
GAINESVILLE, Fla. – I enjoy the NFL Draft, but I’m not a draftnik. Same with National Signing Day. I follow recruiting closely when commitments and speculation become official rather than the daily whims of 17- and 18-year-olds.
For true draftniks nothing compares to the months between the Super Bowl and the NFL Draft. More and more websites devote space and resources to draft projections every year. Seems like everyone and their Uncle Bill have a mock draft posted on their blog.
Still, despite the endless cycle of analysis and regurgitation of that analysis, each year the draft proves how much of a gap there is between the experts and the NFL personnel making the picks.
This year’s draft proved no exception. In fact, all you have to do is review the eight Gators selected. Florida’s eight picks led the Southeastern Conference and gave Florida 20 players selected in the last three years.
Some projections were spot on; most were not. That’s the unpredictability of the draft.
Here is a review of reality vs. mock draft projections:
DANTE FOWLER JR., DL
Taken with the third overall pick in the first round by Jacksonville, Fowler was an easy call by the time the draft rolled around. Nearly all the major draft pundits had him as a top-10 pick. The NFL Network’s Mike Mayock was his most vocal supporter in the months leading up to the draft. Mayock had Fowler going third overall to the Jags weeks before the draft, which prompted others to move Fowler above highly touted defensive linemen available such as USC’s Leonard Williams and Clemson’s Vic Beasley.
Mock Drafters’ Grade: A
D.J. HUMPHRIES, OL
Humphries left school early despite being told to stay in school by the NFL Draft Advisory Board. D.J. knew best. Humphries impressed NFL personnel at the combine in February and his stock soared from there. By the time Thursday’s first round started, most of the mock drafters had Humphries as a first-round pick, with multiple NFL.com mock drafts predicting Humphries to the Cardinals at No. 24. Well, he went 24th overall to the Cardinals, slightly above where Humphries was ranked among ESPN scouting guru Todd McShay’s top 300 prospects (32nd) or NFLDraftScout.com’s list of prospects (36th).
Mock Drafters’ Grade: A
CHAZ GREEN, OL
Green was the third player off the board for the Gators, selected in the third round (91st overall) by Dallas. Green did not receive a lot of publicity leading up to the draft and most projections had him a mid-round pick at best. NFLDraftScout.com rated Green as the 191st prospect available, and McShay ranked Green 133rd overall. The Cowboys clearly thought much higher of the 6-foot-4, 315-pound Green, who has the potential to develop into a starting right tackle in the NFL.
Mock Drafters’ Grade: C-
MATT JONES, RB
The depth at running back was deep this year with Georgia’s Todd Gurley and Wisconsin’s Melvin Gordon considered the top backs available. Jones was projected by most analysts as a mid-round pick. However, the Redskins saw him as a perfect complement to starter Alfred Morris and selected Jones with the 95th overall pick in the third round. McShay ranked Jones the 135th-best prospect in the draft and NFLDraftScout.com had him ranked 154th. The Redskins viewed him in much higher regard.
Mock Drafters’ Grade: C-
MAX GARCIA, OL
The versatile Garcia played tackle and guard his first season at UF in 2013, and then moved to center as a senior and anchored an offensive line that had four players get drafted. Garcia was drafted by Denver in the fourth round as the 133rd overall selection. He was a mid-round pick on most mock drafts and McShay pegged him as the 132nd-ranked prospect in the draft, so he was spot on. NFLDraftScout.com wasn’t as high on Garcia, ranking him No. 227 prior to the draft. Overall, Garcia went about where most expected and gives the Broncos a high-character player to develop.
Mock Drafters’ Grade: A
NEIRON BALL, LB
Ball was under the radar heading into the draft after suffering a season-ending knee injury late in his senior season. However, Ball performed well at UF’s Pro Day last month and appeared in excellent condition. The Raiders obviously saw something they liked, taking Ball in the fifth round with the 161st overall pick. That is 117 spots higher than where McShay ranked Ball and more than 220 spots higher than where Ball was ranked by NFLDraftScout.com. If Ball can stay healthy, Oakland got a player with a lot of untapped potential waiting to make an impact.
Mock Drafters’ Grade: F
ANDRE DEBOSE, WR
Debose never lived up to expectations at Florida due to injuries and his lack of development as a go-to receiver. However, Debose made his mark as a kickoff and punt returner and that was enough for the Raiders to take a chance in the seventh round, selecting Debose with the 221st overall pick. Few expected Debose to get drafted. Most analysts viewed him as a player who would be invited to a minicamp or signed as an undrafted free agent, hence he was not in McShay’s top 300 draft prospects and ranked – are you ready – 727th on NFLDraftScout.com’s list of prospects. If Debose succeeds in the NFL, the Raiders will look like geniuses. If he doesn’t, the rest of the league can say “we told you so.”
Mock Drafters’ Grade: N/A
TRENTON BROWN, OL
The 6-foot-8, 355-pound Brown has the kind of size that NFL scouts can’t ignore. A former standout basketball player in high school, Brown continues to develop as a football player. Still, the 49ers used their seventh-round pick (244th overall) on Brown. Prior to the draft most expected Brown to be a mid- to late-round pick. McShay rated him the 207th-best prospect available and NFLDraftScout.com pegged Brown No. 241. In the end, he was picked where the majority of projections had him.
Mock Drafters’ Grade: B+
GAINESVILLE, Fla. – Former Gators coach Billy Donovan – yes, a little strange to see that description in front of his name – just wrapped up his introductory press conference in Oklahoma City.
Donovan answered questions for nearly 40 minutes with Thunder star Kevin Durant and some of his teammates in attendance.
Donovan said he woke up Thursday morning feeling really good about the situation and that’s when he made up his mind to leave Florida after 19 seasons, six SEC titles and two national championships.
Colleague Chris Harry will have a story later today off Donovan’s press conference.
For now, here are some columns from around the Internet discussing Donovan’s move to the NBA:
Billy Donovan listened to every pitch a year ago – the Cleveland Cavaliers, the Minnesota Timberwolves, the Detroit Pistons – and forever found a reason to turn jobs down. From rosters to geography to ownership styles, Donovan passed with an understanding that Oklahoma City loomed in the distance.
Donovan doesn't do this unless he knows that his GM is one of the best roster-builders in the executive game, and his willingness to leave the Florida job that included 19 years, two national championships and four Final Four appearances to partner with Sam Presti shows the kind of faith that they can only hope Durant and Westbrook still have by this time next year.
Sitting at his kitchen table eating pasta on a summer night in 2007, Billy Donovan didn’t sound like a man who would ever leave Florida for the NBA. He had tried to bolt. He had signed a contract with the Orlando Magic that June. He had held a press conference. But he just couldn’t go.
By making a bold and somewhat outside-the-box hire with Donovan, Presti chose someone whom he hopes can challenge the Thunder’s superstar tandem and shake up an offensive system that had become stilted and stale.
He's theirs now, the only basketball coach that a lot of young Gator fans have known. He's the Thunder's. He's Kevin Durant's. He's the NBA's. He's not ours anymore.
Donovan on Thursday agreed to a five-year deal to become the head coach of the Oklahoma City Thunder, league sources told Yahoo Sports. This is a huge loss to a fragile game. It's an understandable move for the man, but a detrimental outcome for the wobbly sport he's leaving behind.
Donovan, deep down, has always had a desire to give the NBA a try. Who could blame him? Donovan accomplished more than anyone in Gainesville could have ever hoped. He needs to take on that one last challenge. And UF? He's paid in full.
Hiring a coach who’s unproven in the NBA might make hearts drop in Thunder Nation. This team has championship-caliber talent. It also has a superstar going into the final year of his contract. Why would the Thunder pick Billy Donovan?
Updated: 11:52am, April 30
GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- The three-day NFL Draft opens tonight with the first round.
It shouldn't take Florida long to continue one of the more impressive streaks in college football.
The Gators are one of six teams who have had a player taken every year in the Common Draft era, which started when the NFL and AFL held a joint draft for the first time in 1967.
Quarterback Steve Spurrier was the first UF player selected in the Common Draft era, taken third overall in '67 by San Francisco. Running back Jimmy Jordan went in the third round that year to Atlanta.
Florida defensive lineman Dante Fowler Jr. is projected as a top 10 pick tonight and offensive lineman D.J. Humphries could also go in the first round.
The Gators were regulars in the NFL Draft long before the Common Draft era, though. The last time Florida didn't have a player selected: 1951.
The following season, Detroit selected center Carroll McDonald in the 13th round and every year since at least one UF player has been picked in the NFL Draft.
6 schools have had a player taken every year in Common Draft era (since 1967): Florida, Michigan, Michigan St, Nebraska, Tennessee, USC— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) April 27, 2015
GAINESVILLE, Fla. – The NFL Draft is on tap starting Thursday.
Gators defensive lineman Dante Fowler Jr. is expected to be among the first players taken.
In today’s list of links for your perusal, included is a story on Fowler from his hometown newspaper.
Here are items on others with ties to Gator Nation in the news:
--From St. Petersburg, Dante Fowler Jr. reaches for NFL heights writes Antonya English of The Tampa Bay Times.
--Gators offensive lineman D.J. Humphries – at 305 pounds – ready for his big moment writes Joseph Person of The Charlotte (N.C.) Observer.
--Darnell Mayberry of The Oklahoman takes a look at three top coaching candidates for the NBA’s Oklahoma City Thunder, including Gators head coach Billy Donovan.
--The Chicago Bulls need former Gators standout Joakim Noah to step up on offense writes Rick Telander of the Chicago Sun-Times.
--Gators linebacker Neiron Ball, whose career was hampered by injuries at UF, flashes NFL potential writes Edgar Thompson of The Orlando Sentinel.
--Former Gators running back Lorenzo Hampton steered his son toward baseball and that paid off recently when Lorenzo Hampton Jr. signed with Cal.
--Did the Eagles sign former Gators quarterback Tim Tebow to be a two-point specialist? That is what New York Daily News columnist Gary Myers writes.
--Former UF standout Brian Johnson is making a case to be promoted to the majors by the Red Sox, but in what role asks Christopher Smith of MassLive.com.
Updated: 7:42pm, April 26
GAINESVILLE, Fla. – A sense of relief permeated the Florida baseball team following Sunday’s 10-1 clubbing of Kentucky.
The No. 6-ranked Gators lost the first two games of the weekend series and faced the rarity of being swept at home in the midst of the Southeastern Conference’s version of a pennant race.
Instead, the Gators received a solid effort from starter Alex Faedo (5 1/3 IP, 6 H, 1 R, 1 BB, 4 SO) and got at least one hit from every player in the starting lineup to keep pace with SEC East leader Vanderbilt.
“This was one of those days where we had to come out hot, do our thing, and get the win,’’ said freshman catcher Mike Rivera, who went 2-for-3 with two RBIs “That’s all that matters.”
Florida started the day two games behind defending national champion Vanderbilt in the division, tied with Missouri in second place. About 45 minutes after Florida’s game concluded, Vanderbilt wrapped up a 5-2 home victory over Missouri with a three-run rally in the eighth inning.
SEC EAST STANDINGS
The Gators missed an opportunity to gain ground on the Commodores, but just as importantly, avoided dropping into third place in the division with nine conference games remaining.
“Quite honestly it was a game we needed to win,’’ Gators coach Kevin O'Sullivan said afterward on his postgame radio show. “We didn’t play as well as we wanted this weekend. You can look at it one of two ways. We can think we lost two of our last three, or you can think we’ve won seven of our last nine.”
You know which one O’Sullivan will use this week as the Gators finish final exams and then head to Georgia for a three-game weekend series next weekend.
As the Gators attempt to defend their 2014 SEC regular-season title and keep pace with Vanderbilt (33-12, 15-6) in the East and LSU (37-7, 14-6) and Texas A&M (37-7, 13-7) in the West, they play six of their last nine conference games away from McKethan Stadium.
Following their trip to Georgia, the Gators travel to Vanderbilt for a three-game series May 7-9 before closing at home with three against Auburn on May 14-16.
While playing at Vanderbilt is never an easy task, the Gators have favorable matchups against Georgia (21-23, 6-14) and Auburn. The Bulldogs are last in the SEC East and are 0-8 at home against SEC opponents.
Meanwhile, Auburn (29-16, 10-11 SEC) is much better at home – the Tigers swept Georgia this weekend at Plainsman Park – than it is on the road. Auburn is 23-8 at home, 5-8 on the road.
O’Sullivan is optimistic the Gators can close with a flurry and stay in the hunt for the division title.
“We control our own destiny,” he said. “The SEC is hard. It’s not an easy league. Obviously we want to win every game we can and every series, but the fact of the matter is, this league is the best league in the country for a reason.
“I’m excited about the opportunity that is in front of us.”
A freshman from Tampa, Faedo did his part Sunday to improve to 4-1 with a 2.52 ERA. He got help from a lineup that had trailed all 19 innings in the series until a three-run second inning put Florida in front for good Sunday.
“I really liked his demeanor before the game,” O’Sullivan said. “I didn’t sense any nervousness or him being uptight. I think he realized the importance of today’s game and I think he pitched accordingly. He knew what was at stake today, about being swept at home. It’s a heckuva lot of difference between 13-8 and 12-9 if you want to stay in it.”
Updated: 9:10am, April 24
GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- You could say it's been a newsy week for the Gators and their fans.
In case you have missed some of the stories that Florida fans are talking about, here are some fresh links from around the Internet for your perusal on this Friday morning:
--Gators look to continue tradition of feeding first round of NFL Draft writes Jesse Simonton for the Miami Herald.
--The legal case of redshirt freshman J.C. Jackson continues to evolve writes Edgar Thompson of The Orlando Sentinel.
--Central Florida is a central focus in recruiting for Gators head coach Jim McElwain writes Kevin Brockway of The Gainesville Sun.
--VIDEO: The staff of The Oklahoman discusses Gators coach Billy Donovan and others as possible candidates to replace Scott Brooks as head coach of the NBA's Oklahoma City Thunder.
--For more on the Thunder's future plans, ESPN.com NBA writer Royce Young explores the topic of life after Brooks.
--Jim McElwain's task at Florida: Build roster, think ahead writes ESPN.com's Travis Haney (need an ESPNInsider subscription to access).
--Former Gators standout Chandler Parsons frustrated his first season with Dallas Mavericks is over due to knee injury writes Tim MacMahon of ESPNDallas.com.
--The future of Gators sophomore F/C Chris Walker made news on Thursday writes Rob Dauster of NBCSports.com
--An oral history of the 2000 Florida-Tennessee game in Knoxville is a good read from Mark Nagi of FoxSports.com.
--The unfortunate condition of Florida's offensive line writes Ed Aschoff of ESPN.com.
GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- While Eagles coach Chip Kelly, who also oversees the team's player personnel department, has not commented publicly since Philadelphia signed Tim Tebow on Monday, Kelly's right-hand man has.
Eagles Vice President of Player Personnel Ed Marynowitz, who worked for Nick Saban at Alabama during the same span (2008-11) Gators head coach Jim McElwain was Alabama's offensive coordinator, told reporters Thursday that Tebow looked impressive during a March workout with the team.
"Obviously, we were intrigued with what we saw there," Marynowitz said. "We saw a player who improved from the last time we saw him live, which was when he was here with New England."
The Eagles and Patriots had joint practice sessions in 2013 when Tebow participated in camp with New England before being cut. Tebow has not taken an NFL snap since he was with the Jets in 2012.
The former Gators All-American served as an analyst for the SEC Network last fall but continued to work with former big-league pitcher Tom House on his mechanics.
Marynowitz said signing Tebow is not a publicity stunt.
"We had some conversations and some discussions, and we felt that it was an opportunity to bring in someone who could compete for a spot,'' he said. "Look, we've got 68 players who are on our football team right now. And Tim's one of them. He'll have an opportunity to compete for a roster spot. And his role will be determined by his performance and it's as simple as that."
Tebow is one of five quarterbacks on Philadelphia's roster, joining Mark Sanchez, Sam Bradford, Matt Barkley and G.J. Kinne.
Updated: 3:21pm, April 22
GAINESVILLE, Fla. – The first stop outside the city limits was Tuesday night. An estimated crowd of 575 showed up at the Lakeland Center to hear first-year Gators head coach Jim McElwain speak to the Polk County Gator Club.
The next stop is tonight in Orlando, where McElwain will speak to the Central Florida Gator Club. He will be in Tampa on April 27 to meet with the Tampa and Pinellas County Gator Clubs. McElwain wraps up the annual spring speaking tour May 28 back here when he visits with the Fightin’ Gator Touchdown Club not far from his office at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium.
In his first tour around the state to meet and greet Florida fans, McElwain wants to recharge the fan base and deliver an introductory message.
Don’t expect him to arrive with hand-written speech prepared in advance.
“I’m an off-the-cuff guy,’’ he said. “If I try to memorize something, I’m horrible at it. Try to get the feel of the room and listen to the introductions. Try to not put them to sleep.”
While new to Gator Nation, McElwain has recruited the state heavily at previous stops in his coaching career. He understands what the Gators mean to different parts of the Sunshine State.
He exhibited some of that knowledge Tuesday in Lakeland.
“This is a special area,’’ he told reporters. “I believe there’s more Polk Gators per capita than anywhere in the state. Then you think about the history of great players who’ve come out of Polk County that have made a difference for the Gators. That speaks volumes for the area. It’s been really good to the Gators.”
The Gators capped spring practice with the Orange & Blue Debut on April 11. Besides the quarterback battle between sophomore Treon Harris and redshirt freshman Will Grier, the dominant story line was the lack of depth on the offensive line.
Florida had only six scholarship offensive linemen available for the spring game and the position took a devastating hit last week when redshirt sophomore Roderick Johnson’s career ended due to congenital cervical stenosis.
Still, McElwain has no plans to focus on what he doesn’t have in his first season at Florida. Instead, he wants to inspire the crowds to think of what can be.
“This is actually exciting,’’ he said. “We get an opportunity to get out and see the people that are really passionate about Gator football and the University of Florida. It allows us to get out in a grass-roots movement of what it’s all about.
“There’s a lot of great things here. There’s a lot of things that we can point at. I mean, you can’t hide the reality and you can’t run from it, and yet, you know what, that’s just part of building something and making sure we get a solid foundation first and implement these guys as they come in.”
Updated: 5:13pm, April 20
GAINESVILLE, Fla. – Tim Tebow.
Those two words woke up the Internet early Sunday evening when news broke that Tebow was returning to the NFL.
The Philadelphia Eagles signed Tebow on Monday to a one-year contract worth the league minimum.
For most quarterbacks without a snap in an NFL game in nearly three years, signing a one-year deal to compete for a roster spot might not even wake up their wife.
Of course, Tebow is not just any quarterback. He’s a Heisman winner, a two-time national champion, a Florida Gators icon and a man of the people.
He garners massive amounts of attention whether he is visiting a campus for “SEC Nation” or holding a charity function.
As of this posting, typing in “Tim Tebow” in the Google News search engine returns more than 2 million results in 0.25 seconds.
That’s someone making news on a Monday afternoon.
Here are some columnists from around the country offering takes on Eagles coach Chip Kelly giving Tebow another chance in the NFL:
Tebow is either dauntless, or a deluded lunk. The one thing he is not is meaningless. The Philadelphia Eagles and their madman coach Chip Kelly closely inspected him in March, and apparently found him worth a shot, despite the presence of Sam Bradford, Mark Sanchez and Matt Barkley on the roster.
If Kelly sees the spark that Tebow carried at the University of Florida -- and that flashed once or twice while he was playing in Denver -- then Kelly will have a fascinating choice to make.
The Philadelphia Eagles’ signing of Tim Tebow raises a host of questions: How will Tebow fare after two years away from the game? What role does Coach Chip Kelly have in mind for him? Will he be embraced by the tough fans?
Tim Tebow needs someone in the NFL to give him one last chance. The NFL could use a more positive distraction from its recent woes. In short, they need each other.
Tebow signing with most teams in the NFL today might not lead this column, especially because I’ve got two other items I really like. Tebow signing with the Eagles leads the column because, as my anonymous coach says, Kelly will give Tebow a legitimate chance to be one of his three quarterbacks this season.
Tim Tebow spent time with quarterback guru Tom House supposedly fixing his wind-up throwing motion, so now the Philadelphia Eagles think he can play?
Updated: 12:03pm, April 16
GAINESVILLE, Fla. – I went out to UF’s lacrosse game against Cincinnati on Wednesday afternoon – Florida’s final regular-season home game of the season -- to see if I could find something to write about.
I found a good story. Her name is Mikki Offit, a senior from Bethesda, Md. Offit scored her first goal in two years and only the second of her UF career in the Gators' 20-1 win. But that's not what makes her story a good one.
Check out GatorZone.com later today to learn more about Offit as the Gators prepare to head off to Connecticut to close the regular season and prepare for the Big East Tournament.
For now, here are some fresh links from around the Internet featuring items of interest to UF sports fans:
--The women’s World Cup is on tap this summer and Time Magazine has named former UF standout and current U.S. National Team star Abby Wambach as one of its 100 most influential people in the world. Time had former U.S. star Mia Hamm write about Wambach.
--The return of former UF assistant Anthony Grant sparked a lot of conversation earlier this week, including this column from Kevin Scarbinsky of AL.com: Billy Donovan thinks too much of Anthony Grant to hire him as an act of charity
--North Little Rock (Ark.) guard KeVaughn Allen signed a national letter of intent on Wednesday to play for the Gators via ArkansasOnline.com. Meanwhile, 6-foot-8 forward Keith Stone out of Zion Lutheran in Deerfield Beach, Fla., also signed a letter of intent with the Gators on Wednesday.
--The Orlando Magic can cross Billy Donovan off their wish list writes Orlando Sentinel columnist George Diaz.
--Gators coach Billy Donovan was very active in former assistant Matt McCall’s hiring at UT-Chattanooga writes Gene Henley of the Chattanooga (Tenn.) Times Free Press.
--The news of former Gators and Patriots tight end Aaron Hernandez’s conviction on murder charges dominated the news cycle much of Wednesday. In what is a tragic story on so many levels, a couple of reads caught my attention on Wednesday about the Hernandez case: The Arrogance of Aaron Hernandez by Brendan I. Koerner of The New Yorker, and True Grace: Odin Lloyd’s mother forgives Aaron Hernandez for murdering her son by Yahoo! Sports columnist Dan Wetzel.
--A recap of Dodgers’ 5-2 win over Mariners on Wednesday night from The Seattle Times. The game featured former Florida teammates Mike Zunino (Seattle) and Paco Rodriguez (Dodgers).
--A Texas homecoming for some Gator gymnasts at the NCAA Championships writes Pat Dooley of The Gainesville Sun.
--The charges against UF pitchers AJ Puk and Kirby Snead for climbing a crane have been reduced writes Robbie Andreu of The Gainesville Sun.