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Friday July 13, 2012Carter: Top 10 Gator Team Performances of 2011-12 Athletic Year

Scott Carter
By SCOTT CARTER
GatorZone.com Senior Writer

GAINESVILLE, Fla. Ė It started in Miami and ended in Omaha. In between, Floridaís athletic teams played and competed from coast to coast.

The Gators officially opened the 2011-12 athletic season with a 2-0 soccer win at Miami on Aug. 19. The year ended at the College World Series when the No. 1-seed Gators lost to Kent State on June 18.

A lot happened in those 10 months.

Here is my list of the top 10 team performances from the Gators in 2011-12. If you have your own list to share or simply want to say how smart or clueless my list is, click here to visit the official Facebook page of GatorZoneScott and add your voice.

The drumroll please Ö

1.     Menís Outdoor Track Team Captures First National Title

The Gators had come so, so close to winning the programís first outdoor national title in recent years, finishing in the top for three consecutive seasons. Finally, they did it, joining Arkansas, Kansas, SMU, Southern California and UTEP as the only menís programs to sweep the indoor and outdoor menís titles in the same year.

And the Gators did it in dramatic fashion, edging LSU by two points.

The meet came down to the final race for the Gators and the 4x400-meter relay team of Dedric Dukes, Hugh Graham Jr., Leonardo Seymore and Tony McQuay delivered. What made Floridaís national title even more surprising was that the Gators were without two of their regular point producers, sprinter Jeff Demps (injury) and decathlete Gray Horn (non-qualifier).

2.     Womenís Tennis Team Goes Back-to-Back

The Gators womenís tennis team made headlines the previous spring by winning the national title against Stanford on the Cardinalís home court. Lauren Embree played a starring role by winning the clinching match.

Embree had an encore in her in 2012, once again winning the clinching match in the Gatorsí 4-0 win over UCLA at the University of Georgia.

The Gators finished the season 27-1 and won the programís sixth national title, joining the 1992, í96, í98, 2003 and 2011 squads. The six national titles are the most for any UF sports program.

3.     Menís Indoor Track Team Three-Peats

Omar Craddockís national title in the triple jump was the final piece of the puzzle for the Gators to clinch their third consecutive menís indoor national title in March.

Florida three-peated thanks to strong performances across the board, including Demps winning his third consecutive national title in the 60 meters and McQuay becoming the first UF athlete to win the 400-meter indoor national title since Kerron Clement in 2005.

Once again, Florida was able to overcome the absence Horn, who was injured during warm-ups for the pole vault and was unable to participate in the finals of the heptathlon.

The Gators became only the third program to win three consecutive menís indoor national titles.

4.     Baseball Team Returns to Omaha for Third Consecutive Season

Before head coach Kevin OíSullivanís arrival prior to the 2008 season, the Florida baseball team had been to the College World Series five times in 93 seasons. The Gators made it back for the third consecutive season in 2012 by winning the Gainesville Super Regional over N.C. State.

The Gators defeated the Wolfpack 9-8 in a back-and-forth 10-inning marathon in Game 2 that included a long rain delay on a hot and humid afternoon at McKethan Stadium.

Florida reeled off five consecutive wins in the Gainesville Regional and Super Regional before its season came to an end with losses to South Carolina and Kent State in Omaha.

5.     Lacrosse Teamís Run to Final Four

In only its third year of existence, the Florida lacrosse team made it all the way to Stony Brook, N.Y., for the Final Four. The Gators beat perennial power Northwestern twice in two weeks on the way.

The Gators appeared on their way to the national championship game until Syracuse overcome a seven-goal deficit in the second half to force overtime in the national semifinals.

The Orange won in OT before losing to Northwestern for the national title, the same Northwestern team the Gators dominated in the American Lacrosse Conference title game.

6.     Gymnastics Team Comes Oh So Close

The closest any Florida team came to winning a national title in 2012 without winning one was the gymnastics team. The Gators finished runner-up to national champion Alabama in April in Duluth, Ga.

However, the national title wasnít determined literally until the final routine. After individual all-around champion Kytra Hunter finished her floor routine, the Gators gathered to watch Alabamaís Ashley Priess complete her beam routine.

Priess nailed it with a 9.95 score, giving the Crimson Tide the national title by .075 points over the Gators. How close was it? The final margin was the closest in the NCAA Finals in 18 years and third-closest in history.

Floridaís national runner-up finish was its best showing in 14 years.

7.     Gators Defeat Ohio State in Gator Bowl

Florida and Ohio State took the field in Jacksonville both with 6-6 records. Neither team wanted to lose and finish the season with a losing record.

Adding to the drama was the recent hiring by Ohio State of former Gators coach Urban Meyer. That storyline made the game between a pair of 6-6 teams more interesting to fans.

The Gators played perhaps their finest game of the season for first-year coach Will Muschamp, capping the programís 32nd consecutive non-losing season with a 24-17 victory over the Buckeyes.

8.     Menís Basketball Teamís Elite Eight Berth

For the second consecutive season the Gators played some of their best basketball of the season in the NCAA Tournament. And for the second consecutive season the Gators came within a few minutes of a Final Four berth.

Florida beat Virginia and upstart Norfolk State in the first two rounds before knocking off Marquette in the Sweet 16 in Phoenix. Next up was a game against Louisville, which offered the bonus storyline of Florida coach Billy Donovan going against his college coach, Louisvilleís Rick Pitino.

The Gators led by double-figures in the second half before losing in the final moments, a loss that stung particularly hard because of similarities to the Gatorsí loss to Butler in the 2011 Elite Eight.

9.     Womenís Track Claims SEC Indoor Title

The Gators were unsatisfied with their performance in the 2011 SEC meet and held a team meeting afterward to set some goals for the future.

The renewed focus paid off big time when the Gators ran away with the SEC indoor title at the University of Kentucky, beating second-place LSU by 23 points.

The Gators took control of the competition when the foursome of Agata Strausa, Cory McGee, Shelby Hayes and Mandy Perkins all finished in the top six in the mile on the meetís final day.

10.   Menís Golf Teamís Late Run to NCAAs

The UF menís golf team had an up-and-down season but showed what it could do when the swing was right and putts were falling at the NCAA East Regional in May.

The Gators needed a good score to finish in the top five and advance to the NCAA Championships on the final day of competition at Grandover Resort East Course in Greensboro, N.C. They got one, led by an impressive 3-under-par 69 from T.J. Vogel.

Florida shot 3-under as a team in the final round to finish second to Liberty, three shots behind, and qualify for the NCAA Championships.

 

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