Wednesday June 19, 2013The Top 10: Chris Harry's Top UF Individual Moments of 2012-13
Gators coach Rhonda Faehn and her team had plenty to celebrate this season.
Gators coach Rhonda Faehn and her team had plenty to celebrate this season.
GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- It will come as no surprise that several of these Top 10 individual moments of the Florida 2012-13 athletic year are intertwined with my Top 10 team moments published earlier in the week.
You can’t have memorable team moments without individuals stepping to the forefront when outcomes rest in the balance.
These athletes (and a coach) did that.
1. They had it -- and she told them so.
Yes, these lists are normally reserved for athletes, but it’s my list, hence my rules.
Note: If you want to chime in on my choices or add your own, click here to visit the official Facebook page of GatorZoneChris.
Meanwhile, if you’ve followed Florida gymnastics even casually over the years then you’re aware of the unmitigated disasters that have derailed the Gators on the balance at the NCAA Championships.
So why should 2013 have been any different?
First, senior Ashanée Dickerson took a spill. Then it was 2012 Honda Award winner and two-time national champion Kytra Hunter’s turn to fall.
Just like that the Gators were in last place after the first rotation at the Super Six and headed to the locker room presumably to feel sorry for themselves during their bye rotation.
And that’s where Rhonda Faehn put on the coaching performance of her life. Maybe one of the finest compacted minutes of coaching in UF sports history.
When the Gators just as well could have been at the emotional nadir of the season, Faehn pummeled them with unbridled confidence, basically predicting a worst-to-first transformation. She did it with three words that for the next 90 minutes became UF’s national-championship mantra.
“We’ve got this.”
Saying it was one thing. Selling it another.
Faehn’s gymnasts believed ... then went out and, well, got it.
The first NCAA championship in the program’s history.
Take a bow, Rhonda.
2. All for one ... and 4x400
I’m citing the my-list, my-rules disclaimer again.
But seriously, would it be fair to say the anchor leg run by Arman Hall, who ducked across the finish to defeat Alabama by 1/100th of a second, was any more important than the previous three legs in winning the 4x400 relay and clinching a share of a second straight NCAA men’s title?
On the meet’s final event, no less.
So Hall can share this spot with Najee Glass, Hugh Graham Jr., and Dedric Dukes, who ran spectacular races that day, but more importantly executed perfect baton exchanges, as opposed to the top-seeded team from Texas A&M. The Aggies needed only to finish seventh among eight teams to clinch the team title.
Instead, they dropped the first handoff and finished last, allowing the Gators to tie the meet and celebrate another title.
3. Another level conquered
She came to UF having already won American and world titles in gymnastics.
In her freshman season, Bridget Sloan became an NCAA champion, too. Two-time champion, actually,
Sloan claimed all-around and balance beam individual titles at the NCAA Championships, leading the “We’ve Got This” charge out of the locker room in the Super Six team final. In doing so, the rookie collegian from Indiana became the first female gymnast ever to win the all-around title at the World Championships, U.S. Championships and NCAA Championships.
She also became the second straight UF gymnast (joining Hunter) and the 16th athlete in school history to receive the prestigious Honda Award, given annually to the nation’s top performer in each of the 12 NCAA women’s sports.
4. Because he didn’t take it personally, it became a personal best
During the UF basketball team’s first-round defeat of Northwestern State, Billy Donovan benched starting guard Mike Rosario for a defensive lapse the very likes of which the UF coach addressed in the locker room just minutes earlier at halftime.
For the rest of the game, Rosario sulked on the sidelines. His body language carried over to the next day when Donovan, during a film session, had seen enough and aggressively confronted the senior in a manner that in no way could be mistaken.
It was one of those, “snap-out-of-it-or-else” conversations; and a very one-way conversation.
The next day, in the second round against Minnesota, Rosario was magnificent, scoring a UF career-high 26 points on 8-for-12 shooting from the floor and 6-for-9 from 3-point range in a turnover-less 34 minutes, as the Gators defeated the Gophers and advanced to the Sweet 16.
In the locker room afterward, Rosario hugged his coach and wept in the arms of his teammates and thanked them for standing behind him.
5. Advantage: Antonio
The Gators trailed rival Florida State on the road with just over 11 minutes to go when Seminoles quarterback E.J. Manuel was flushed from the pocket and leg-locked by defensive end Lerentee McCray.
That’s when backup middle linebacker Antonio Morrison arrived to clean up.
Manuel was leveled. The ball came loose. UF recovered. Manuel was helped from the field. Florida scored 24 straight points.
The Gators likely do not get a BCS berth without that reversal of fortunes and 37-26 win.
Big hit (the biggest of the year), with bigger ramifications.
6. More of the same
As a sophomore, Elizabeth Beisel won the 200-meter backstroke at the NCAA Swimming Championships, then locked up two spots on the United States team at the Olympic Trials in June.
That was in 2012 and easily qualified for a spot on this list last year.
And what Beisel did since easily gets her on this year’s.
Beisel went to London and captured a silver medal in the 400 individual medley and bronze in the 200 back last summer, then chased that performance by winning the 400 IM at the NCAA meet in the spring.
She wrapped up her stellar junior season by becoming just the eighth student-athlete in UF history named Academic All-America of the Year. She joined Gators swimming legend Tracy Caulkins as the lone female swimmers in school history to be named to the Academic All-America first team in consecutive years.
7. Dandy at Vandy
When you’re a Florida quarterback and you're stiff-arming postgame comparisons to Tim Tebow, you’ve probably had a pretty good night.
Sophomore quarterback Jeff Driskel rushed 11 times for 177 yards and scored touchdowns on runs of 37, 13 and 70 yards in UF’s 31-17 win at Vanderbilt last October.
And just so we’re straight here, that wasn’t your father and grandfather (or even older brother’s) Commodores defense Driskel made to look silly, but one that helped key a 9-4 record. The 31-17 UF win turned out to be Vandy’s final loss of the season, as the Commodores went on to win seven straight and finished ranked (No. 23) in the final AP poll for the first time since 1948.
Driskel’s rushing output broke the single-game record for a Gators quarterback, topping the 166 yards set by you-know-who at Ole Miss in 2007.
8. Thirty-eight and oh my gosh
If you play four years of tennis in the SEC and never lose does that make you the most dominant wire-to-wire player in conference history?
The disappointing end of Lauren Embree’s UF career -- a straight-set loss in the NCAA semifinals against Stanford, then first-round exit as the No. 1 seed in the singles draw -- can’t take away from what she accomplished over her entire orange-and-blue body of work.
Not only was she the centerpiece of national championships teams in 2011 and ’12 (capturing the title-clinching points in both years), but Embree went 9-0, 9-0, 10-0 and again10-0 as a senior in SEC matches over her four years, while playing either No. 1 or No. 2, to finish 38-0 in one of the nation's toughest tennis leagues.
9. Louisiana Lightning
In the big picture, what does a homecoming win over a mid-major with a break-even record really mean?
Given the alternative, maybe everything.
The Gators trailed Louisiana-Lafayette with just over two minutes to play when backup quarterback Jacoby Brissett, forced into action after Driskel sprained his ankle, threw a game-tying touchdown pass with 1:42 left.
The game appeared headed to overtime when sophomore Loucheiz Purifoy came free on a Cajuns punt, swatted the kick high into the air and into the waiting arms of Jelani Jenkins, who raced untouched 36 yards for a touchdown with just two seconds left in the game.
Florida 27, Louisiana-Lafayette 20.
If Purifoy didn’t block that punt and the Gators had lost the game in overtime, they would not have been invited to Louisiana for a certain BCS bowl game while inviting nation-wide ridicule over a homecoming by a powerful SEC team.
Maybe this item should be even higher.
10. Heat check
It was just the fourth game of her collegiate career, but redshirt freshman guard Carlie Needles announced herself.
North Florida heard her loud and clear.
Needles, who missed the entire 2011-12 season with a knee injury, came to UF after a high school career as one of the greatest scorers -- and shooters -- in Colorado history.
How about nine 3-pointers in one game?
That’s what needs did against the Ospreys, going 9-for-17 from the arc and breaking the 20-year-old record held by Bridget Pettis, who hit eight treys in a win over Georgia back in 1992.