Exciting Spring on the Horizon

It has been a while since the spring brought this much optimism to the Florida athletic department. The spring is known as a season that brings hope and renewal, but to this athletic program, it's not like there was a renewal necessary. However, it has been a while since a spring looked to bring such success.

The basketball team is finally putting together a season that everyone knew it was capable of. There is more optimism around the O'Connell Center than at any point since 2007, when the likes of Joakim Noah, Al Horford and Corey Brewer brought their second straight national championship back to Gainesville.

The expectations aren't that high for this basketball team. However, winning seven of their last eight games has brought the team together. They are starting to play to their potential. It's a team that was picked by ESPN college basketball analyst Digger Phelps as his national championship winner before the season started. The talent is there for the Gators to experience their first deep run through March Madness in four years.

Next door at McKethan Stadium, the Florida baseball team opens their season on February 18 as the preseason No. 1 team in the country. It's a team that returns the same three weekend starting pitchers who led the team to the College World Series last year. The addition of Karsten Whitson, the No. 9 overall pick in the 2010 MLB Draft that turned down $2.1 million to come to campus, and the health of Tommy Toledo adds depth to an already stacked pitching staff.

The offense also returns seven of eight starters in the field. The entire middle of the order returns, and the Gators have plenty of power throughout the lineup.

The No. 5 Florida softball team started their season over the weekend, going 5-0 in the USF Wilson DeMarini Tournament. Senior pitcher Stephanie Brombacher threw her second career perfect game, and freshman Hannah Rogers won two games and gave up two runs in 14 innings.

The lineup loses one of the best power hitters in school history in Francesca Enea, but other key pieces are back. Their freshman class will also give a boost. Freshman shortstop Cheyenne Coyle hit three home runs and tied for a team high 10 RBIs over the weekend. Freshman third baseman Kasey Fagan, the 2010 Gatorade National Player of the Year, also had a good weekend. All the pieces are in place for their fourth straight trip to the College World Series.

The best chance at a national championship might come through gymnastics. The No. 1 Gators posted a national best and fifth highest score in school history of 197.725 as they won at No. 4 Georgia on Saturday. There was a sellout crowd at Stegeman Coliseum, but it didn't matter. The last three meets have seen the Gators raise their overall score, continuing to make their No. 1 ranking harder to lose.

Three of their final four meets are on the road, which will be good preparation for the postseason.

The No. 17 Florida lacrosse team opened their second season by almost recording an impressive win. They opened Saturday at No. 3 North Carolina and lost 10-9 in overtime. The Gators led for most of the second half before the veteran Tar Heels got back in it late to tie the game.

Winning the game would have been ideal, but it was more about proving that the team is ready to take the next step and compete with the nation's powers. It's a team full of freshmen and sophomores, so it's more about experience early in their careers. However, don't be surprised if they win more games than expected with two outstanding recruiting classes on campus.

The women's tennis team is ranked No. 2 and came away with a 5-2 win over No. 4 North Carolina. The women played in the NCAA finals last season and return a majority of their key pieces.

And let's not forget about spring football. That begins in March, and it's hard to find someone who isn't excited about head coach Will Muschamp's debut. His reputation as a fiery coach has everyone interested to watch him interact with players on the practice field.

The lesson is simple. There's a lot going on in Gainesville this spring, and just about any sports team you pay attention to is likely going to have a shot at a lengthy postseason. It's an impressive juggernaut that Jeremy Foley has built in Gainesville, but it's hard to think of a spring with this much excitement around it.

Fightin Gators Top Stories