It will always be difficult to choose one team as the Gator women's sports team of the year. The highest national finish goes to the track and field squad, which finished second at NCAA Indoors. The outdoor track squad grabbed fifth while swimming and diving ended up number four. But my vote goes to Gator Gymnastics. A return to the super six and a fifth-place NCAA finish in Rhonda Faehn's second year is impressive enough. But Florida also had to overcome a devastatingly emotional injury to Kristen Stucky at SEC's to end their season on such a high note.
Disappointment Of The Year
This is a tough category because it calls attention to a failure, but that's the nature of sports. Also, you cannot have a disappointing result unless you have a quality program capable of superb results. Candidates this year would include soccer, eliminated in the first round at home by UCF and volleyball, a second round loser for the first time. But that is due more to preposterous seeding than UF failure. Florida ranked # 5 in the RPI lost a five-game match to eventual NCAA champ Stanford, a match that should have been a regional final and a match that was more competitive than any the Cardinal faced in the tournament. But the biggest disappointment/shocker of all had to be the undefeated tennis team losing at home in the second round to Miami. We are so accustomed to greatness from the tennis team that every setback is a shocker, but this one reverberated throughout the country.
Coach Of The Year
Just look at the team of the year mentions and you pretty much have the coach of the year candidates, and you could make a case for adding basketball coach Carolyn Peck to the list after improving from nine wins to 19. I'm going with track and field coach Tom Jones for a pair of top five national finishes and an SEC Indoor title to go with it.
Athlete Of The Year
Where do you want to start? Vanessa Hayden averaged a double-double against unreal competition. Jane Collymore and Stephanie Freeman were both SEC Player of the Year in their respective sports (volleyball/soccer). Sara McLarty ended her career with three top five finishes at the NCAA Swim Meet while tennis' Zerene Reyes didn't lose in singles or doubles after the first of the year. Erinn Dooley and Orley Szmuch were multiple All-Americans in gymnastics and Jenny Gladding was posting the best softball season in school history before she was injured.
Despite that field of contenders, I'm going back to the track.. or should I say the field events for dual NCAA Champion Candice Scott. Scott defended her NCAA crown in the hammer throw and added a national title in the weight throw. That's awesome, plain and simple.
Freshman Of The Year
As usual there was no shortage of newcomers making big-time contributions to Gator teams in 2004. Tiandra Ponteen was the SEC freshman runner of the year while Nina Suvak was 20-and-3 for the tennis squad. Stacy Stevens posted 14 wins on the mound for the softball team and gymnasts Savannah Evans, Breanne King and Samantha Lutz each earned All-American honors.
My choice is volleyball standout Angie McGinnis. Not only did the rookie from Michigan earn SEC Freshman of the year honors, she did so at by far the toughest position for any newcomer, setter. McGinnis was able to supplant veteran Lauren Moscovic, something that has never happened under Mary Wise, and seems destined to be Florida's best-ever at the spot.
Let me apologize in advance for those I may have overlooked. It was a great year for Gator women's sports, but offered a few more notable disappointments than we are used to around here.
Next week, I offer some predictions for the Gator Women in 2005.
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