Gators Head to Omaha More Prepared

The Gators landed in Omaha last year with wide eyes and a sense of awe. A team that was led in production by underclassmen, it's hard to blame them. The atmosphere around the College World Series can be consuming, especially if players aren't prepared for it. The Gators know what to expect Wednesday afternoon when their plane lands in Omaha.

"It was just a different atmosphere for us," right fielder Preston Tucker said about last year at the College World Series. "It was big crowds and everything going on outside the stadium. I just don't think we were prepared for it, and that's one thing we're focusing on this week is to prepare for it."

The plan this year is a little different than 2010. All eight teams have a designated practice time at the new TD Ameritrade Park on Friday. Last year, the Gators slated to practice at noon during the Friday practice in the last year of Rosenblatt Stadium, and Florida flew to Omaha on Thursday.

Their 50-minute practice session felt like a blur, and Florida rushed to the hotel to shower and back to the field for the Opening Ceremonies. Before they could blink, they were heading to the field on Saturday to take on UCLA.

"We prepared ourselves the whole week that it was almost like the end of the road and we were happy to be (in Omaha)," O'Sullivan said. "This year, I'm hoping that they understand we still have one more step to take.

"Everything was rushed out there, and the next thing you know it was the 5th inning and we were down."

This year, the plan changes. Florida will touch down in the early afternoon Wednesday. They'll most likely drive by the stadium to get their first glimpse of the completed TD Ameritrade Park before heading to the hotel and going to dinner.

They will practice at Creighton University on Thursday to stay in the flow of the game, but the main reason for getting out to Omaha multiple days early is to relax and get settled. The Florida coaches don't want this trip to be a whirlwind, which they feel like was a reason for their struggled play on the field in the College World Series last year.

It was the first thing O'Sullivan thought about changing on the flight back to Gainesville when the Gators were eliminated last year.

"It's important to go out there and practice on Thursday," O'Sullivan said. "Last year, our only practice was the 50-minute session they give us on the game field. We're trying to do as much as we can to keep things as consistent as what we've done all year long."

O'Sullivan held a meeting with the team on Monday night to help them regroup. They talked about ticket distribution, hotel, departure time and what to pack, hoping to get those out of the way as early as possible and allow the team's mental preparation to begin.

The returning players know the drill after last season. There's a demand on the players' time that can sometimes become a distraction to the actual reason they're in Omaha—winning a championship.

"Once you get there, you're constantly doing stuff," Florida catcher Mike Zunino said. "You have practice, media stuff and signing autographs. It's never ending. I don't think we were mentally prepared for it last year for that."

The added comfort level should give the team a chance to slow things down and still maintain a focus on the games. There will also be a different feel around the team, as making it to Omaha wasn't the goal for this season. They want to win the whole tournament.

"Last year, we were just excited to be there," Zunino said. "It was a big step for us, but we took it for granted. This year, we're looking to keep in mind what our goal is and stick to it."

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