GatorZone.com Senior Writer
GAINESVILLE, Fla. – The soccer team won another SEC Tournament title. The football team returned to relevance nationally. The women’s basketball team made a deep run in the WNIT. Billy D’s team dribbled its way back to the Elite Eight. The women’s tennis team nearly pulled off a three-peat.
Those are some of the highlights from the 2012-13 school year for UF’s athletic teams.
There are more, including a pair of national championships.
In closing the book on last season, here is my list of the top 10 team performances by the Gators in 2012-13. My list might look different from yours. You can click here to visit the official Facebook page of GatorZoneScott and share your thoughts on the year that was.
Let’s get to it. The drumroll please …
When you fall, get back up
Rhonda Faehn gathered her stunned team in a corner of Pauley Pavilion and told the Gators they could still do the unthinkable.
Not many outside that huddle believed Florida’s gymnastics team had a chance after the Gators fell twice on beam to open the NCAA Gymnastics Championships.
The Gators nailed the next three routines and a year after a runner-up finish, they were all smiles and tears as streamers fell from the rafters to celebrate the school’s first national title.
For a program that had come so close so many times, the memorable scene in Los Angeles is one they will cherish for a long time.
The Big Four added a fifth member as Florida joined Utah, UCLA, Georgia and Alabama as the only programs to win NCAA gymnastics titles.
Down to the wire
The UF men’s track team defended its national outdoor title in dramatic fashion.
As everyone counted the Gators out, they came through with a clutch performance that will surely go down as one of the best in school history. The Gators got some help from Texas A&M, too.
Trailing the Aggies by nine points in the final event of the NCAA Track & Field Championships on June 8, the Gators’ 4x400-meter relay team knew it had to win if there was going to be any way for UF to repeat as champions.
The team of Najee Glass, Hugh Graham Jr., Dedric Dukes and Arman Hall pulled off a flawless race for the win. The Aggies could not say the same, dropping the baton.
Florida’s victory earned the Gators 10 points. Texas A&M’s eight-place finish was good for a point. The final outcome: co-national champions as the UF men’s track team earned its fifth national title (three indoor, two outdoor) in the past four years under head coach Mike Holloway, named national coach of the year.
Knocking out the Noles
The Gators rolled into Doak Campbell Stadium in late November needing a win to stay in the national title conversation and clinch a BCS bowl berth.
They trailed the Seminoles by a touchdown at the start of the fourth quarter. And then, boom!
Caleb Sturgis kicked a field goal. Antonio Morrison forced a fumble. Mike Gillislee broke free. Jeff Driskel hit Quinton Dunbar. Matt Jones gets loose.
Florida scored 24 consecutive points en route to a 37-26 victory over FSU, snapping a two-game losing streak to the Seminoles and punching a ticket to the Sugar Bowl.
A night to remember
Seven innings were not enough. Neither were eight, nine, 10, 11, 12, 13 or 14.
In an elimination game at the Women’s College World Series on June 1, the Gators and Nebraska squared off in an epic thriller the country got to watch on ESPN.
Here is how long the game lasted: The game was in extra innings when the Gators baseball team took off for the flight home after its season ended in Bloomington, Ind.
When the Gators landed in Gainesville two hours later, the UF softball team was still playing. The Gators finally won 9-8 in 15 innings in the longest game in school history.
Meanwhile, the Gators baseball team – with several players watching on their smartphones -- was on the tarmac waiting for their luggage to be unloaded from the plane when the softball game finally ended.
Slamming Dunk City
The biggest story after the first weekend of the NCAA men’s basketball tournament belonged to upstart Florida Gulf Coast University.
The No. 15-seed Eagles upset Georgetown in the first round and then knocked off San Diego State to reach the Sweet 16. FGCU acquired the nickname “Dunk City” for the way it won those games, using an array of dunks to put away opponents.
The Gators were not impressed.
Facing the Eagles at massive Cowboys Stadium with nearly everyone in the stands rooting for FGCU to pull off another upset, the Gators dismissed the Eagles without much of a problem to advance to the Elite Eight for a school-record third consecutive season.
Back to the WCWS
The Gators softball team was a regular in Oklahoma City from 2008-11, making four consecutive appearances in the WCWS.
But a disappointing end to the 2012 season cast doubt over how good the Gators would be in 2013.
In the end, the Gators turned out better than anyone could have imagined on the way back to OKC.
Florida returned to the WCWS in a thrilling 1-0 win over UAB when freshman second baseman Kelsey Stewart made a spectacular defensive play to end the game, throwing out the potential tying run at home for the final out.
Running over LSU
“That was typical 1980 SEC right there,’’ Florida football coach Will Muschamp said after a 14-6 win over No. 4-ranked LSU.
By the time the Tigers visited the Swamp in October, the Gators already had impressive road wins at Texas A&M and Tennessee.
The win over the Aggies in the SEC opener came before the legend of Johnny Football, so Florida still needed a signature win in the eyes of many to claim it was back.
The Gators got one over the Tigers and did it Muschamp style, physically beating LSU up at the line of scrimmage.
Here is a 2012 stat straight out of 1980: the Gators finished off the Tigers with 25 consecutive running plays.
Everyone in the pool
Florida swimming coach Gregg Troy jumped right in with the rest of the Gators.
Why not? If there was a moment to get drenched in street clothes, this was it.
The UF men’s team did something in February that no school other than Auburn had done since 1994 – win an SEC Swimming & Diving championship.
Florida snapped Auburn’s 16-year grip on the men’s title by pulling away from the Tigers on the meet’s final day, finishing 212 points ahead.
Several Gators made a splash, perhaps none more than SEC 100- and 200-meter fly champion Marcin Cieslak.
A fight to the finish
The UF women’s tennis team has ranked high on my list the past couple of years for winning back-to-back national titles.
The Gators failed to three-peat in 2013, but they still easily made the cut. If I’ve learned nothing else covering UF sports, it’s that Roland Thornqvist’s teams don’t go down without a fight.
Facing Stanford in the NCAA semifinals and with Gator Nation plugged in via Twitter and watching online, Florida fell behind 3-0. It looked as if the Gators might go away quietly.
Not so fast. They won the next three matches and didn’t concede anything until Stanford’s Krista Hardebeck outlasted Alexandra Cercone in three sets.
No three-peat but plenty of respect for what senior Lauren Embree and Co. accomplished the past three years.
Down but not out
Gators soccer coach Becky Burleigh’s 18th season was one of her most challenging.
And one of her most rewarding.
Florida endured injury after injury, including a knee injury to senior All-American defender Kathryn Williamson that would have crippled many teams.
Burleigh juggled lineups and the Gators responded to adversity by winning its second SEC Tournament title in three seasons.