KAREN JOHNS, SOFTBALL: Coach Johns has the softball team ranked fourteenth in the nation with a 13-2 record. The Gators went out to Las Vegas to play in the Las Vegas Invitational but rain screwed up the whole weekend. The Gators went 2-1 in the rain-shortened tournament but they didn't get to play number one ranked California and that was a bit of a disappointment for the team.
"That was our last chance to play a Pac-10 team this year at least until postseason," said Johns. "We were very disappointed because they're ranked number one and the Pac-10 is the top conference in the nation."
In Las Vegas, Johns had a chance to use sophomore righthanded pitcher Stacey Stevens in relief. Normally a starter, Stevens could become a closer for the Gators. "That's something we were trying to get some repetitions for her, but we might need her to do that in some second games on Saturday," said Johns. "It's not something that she had to do but it is something that she might develop into."
Stevens has a 5-2 record with a 3.09 ERA. The team ace so far is Mandy Schuerman, who has a 5-0 record and a sparkling 0.38 ERA. Kristen Butler leads the Gators in hitting with a .417 average. Lindsey Cameron has hit four home runs with 17 runs batted in to lead the Gators in those two key departments. Next up for the Gators is Tuesday night for a single game in Daytona Beach against Bethune-Cookman. The Gators will then take a week off before facing Michigan at home March 1 for a doubleheader.
CAROLYN PECK, WOMEN'S BASKETBALL: Sunday was a disappointment for Coach Peck. The Gators lost to Vanderbilt, a loss that might doom the Gators to the Women's NIT, but it was also a loss to her alma mater.
Coach Peck has watched her Gators battle all the top teams in the SEC to the very end only to come up short so many times. She feels that her team is so close to being one of the elite teams in the league, but they've just come up short in those games.
Although the Gators are just 14-11, Peck believes that her star forward, Bernice Mosby, should gain some consideration for SEC Player of the Year and All-America. Mosby leads the Gators with 15.5 points per game and a rebounding average of 8.6.
"I would make a case for Bernice Mosby definitely for All-SEC Player of the Year, for All-American and all the things that go with it," said Coach Peck. "I would also make a case for Tamia Williams and Tashia Morehead for being All-SEC."
Morehead is one of Coach Peck's few seniors. The forward from Panama City has evolved into a tremendous leader for the Gators, both on and off the court. Morehead averages 8.9 points per game and 3.7 rebounds but her value cannot be measured by statistics alone.
"Tashia Morehead knows what she stands for, knows what she's about… she's set high goals and expectations for herself and she's worked hard to achieve those," said Peck. "She's about all the right things. She works hard. She has time for each and every player on our team. She's very coachable and does what we ask her to do and she has a great pride in improving. She has lived to be a Florida Gator and she's played like it."
The Gators play their final home game of the season Thursday against sixteenth ranked Georgia at the Stephen C. O'Connell Center.
RHONDA FAEHN, GYMNASTICS: Coach Faehn's team is ranked sixth in the nation with a 9-2 record, 4-1 in the SEC. The Gators are coming off a victory over Arkansas in Fayetteville last Friday. Florida had to juggle its lineup to compensate for the ankle injury to Orley Szmuch and because sophomore Savannah Evans was coming back after battling the flu during the week.
"We feel like we had a really great performance," said Faehn. "We changed the lineup and everyone that we put in those positions actually came away winning the individual events or the all-around."
Evans is usually an all-around performer, but since she had battled through the flu, she was pulled from the bars lineup, replaced by freshman Tiffany Murry who won the event with a 9.875. Senior Erinn Dooley, back in the lineup after a stress fracture, took Szmuch's spot on the balance beam and turned in a winning 9.875 performance.
"It's crucial," said Faehn of Dooley's return to health and the Florida lineup. "She's such a great team leader. It was so wonderful seeing the way she performed that beam routine. It was so typical of how she had performed every single routine for us the last few years here. It was Erinn without the stress fracture up there competing and it was amazing. It did boost her confidence.
"More than likely we're going to see her exhibition this weekend on floor. We'll put her out there with a brand new routine."
Kentucky is up next for the Gators, their last SEC meet of the season before the conference meet in April. The Gators will host Kentucky at the Stephen C. O'Connell Center Friday at 7 p.m.
ROLAND THORNQVIST, WOMEN'S TENNIS: Coach Thornqvist was eager for his team to get back into action. The Gators are ranked second in the nation behind Stanford with a 2-0 record. Tuesday night, the Gators defeated South Florida, 4-1.
Thornqvist has had to juggle his lineup to compensate for the unexpected loss of top player Alexis Gordon, who dropped off the team for personal reasons back in the fall. That has meant playing younger players, but he's happy with their development.
"The good thing is that our freshmen get to play right away," said Thornqvist. "All three of them are playing tonight. Two will play singles and all three will play doubles. Not having Alexis forces them all to play and that is exactly what they need. They have done a very good job. We had a good fall and competed very well.
"The difference from this year versus last year is we have to teach a bunch more. We have three freshmen and one sophomore and they need to go through what we try to teach them in doubles in particular and some singles things. There is a lot more teaching going on right now but they are responding very well. Playing is what it is all about. For us to be the best team we need to be in May, these kids have to play a lot. It just takes time for them to learn, like basketball or gymnastics, they just have to be out there."
More than anything, Thornqvist is ready for his team to start playing matches. The competition thus far hasn't been exactly scintillating.
"We haven't really played anyone. We beat FSU," he said.
LARRY JUDGE, WOMEN'S TRACK: Candice Scott broke her own collegiate record in the weight throw in last weekend's Hoosier Hills Invitational in Indiana. The eight-time All-American is simply the best in the country and every meet is a chance to break a new record. She's exceeded her own collegiate record three times this season.
"It has been a pleasure working with Candace," said Judge. "We were worried about burn-out after the Olympic Games, but we gave Candace two weeks off and she was able to rest and really get some good work done in the weight room. She has set her sights at throwing 80 (feet) this year. Every weekend she just wants to get closer and closer to that goal and she really is just throwing against the lines. She really wants to do something special before this is all over."
With Scott virtually a sure thing every time out in the weight throw to go with throwers Rachel Longfors and Liz Wanless along with Tiandra Ponteen, the Gators have a chance to win their third SEC Indoor Championship in the last four years.
"For the NCAA championships we have been in the top four in the last three years, a feat that has only been accomplished by us and LSU," Judge said. "So we are real excited about the end of our season. Right now we have three automatic qualifiers in the throws. Candace Scott, who has had a phenomenal season, she has reset the record in the weight throw three times this year. This last weekend she threw 78 feet. She is also an automatic qualifier in the shot-put and is the second best in the conference. Also, Rachel Longfors, who's specialty is the discuss, she is an automatic qualifier for us in the weight throw. She has the number three throw in the SEC this year. We have a newcomer on this year's team, Liz Wanless. She is a transfer from a Division III team where she was the national champion. She is third in the nation in the shot-put at 57-7 and leads the SEC in that event. We still are really strong in the 400 Meters. Tiandra Ponteen had the second fastest time in the nation and recently broke Jearl Miles-Clark's O'Dome record in the 400 meters."
"We are really excited about the next couple of weeks. We feel like we have a very strong team. We don't have the depth that we may have had in the past, but we definitely have the quality. We have some young athletes that we can see developing and getting into top form."
MIKE HOLLOWAY, MEN'S TRACK: Coach Holloway will take a Gator team that has two of the top athletes in the nation in Mike Morrison and Kerron Clement to Fayetteville, Arkansas for the SEC Indoor Championships where they will be facing an Arkansas team that is always among the best in the nation. The Gators are the defending SEC indoor champs and they finished second in the nation indoors last year.
"We are going to head over to Fayetteville, Arkansas for the SEC Invitational," said Holloway. "They are the defending (national) champions. It will be in their back yard. We expect the best from them as always. We will just have to go out as we always do. I can't concern myself with what Arkansas does and doesn't do, I just have to go out and coach the Gators and do the best we can. Believe it or not, I haven't sat down and tried to score the meet to see where we stand (in relation to others). I can't concern myself with that."
Morrison has the second best long jump in the nation at 25-9, a leap that ranks fourth in all-time Gator history.
"He was a great athlete when we got him, we just had to teach him how to be a good track athlete," Holloway said about his star pupil. "The biggest thing for Mike is he studies what he is doing now, he understands what it takes and he takes it serious every day.
Clement won the NCAA 400 meters and ran on the winning NCAA 4X400 relay in 2004. He ranks in the top 20 nationally in the 200 meters, 400 meters and 60 meter hurdles. Clement's individual skills could help get the Gators a second straight SEC title.
"He is along the same lines as Mike," Holloway told the crowd of reporters. "He is an unbelievable athlete that when we got him, he really had no idea what he was doing. Now he comes by, he studies film. One of the great things about Kerron is that he is only 19 years old. He is still maturing as a person and as an athlete. The more he matures the more he learns and you can see it on the track.
"Most kids at this level started running when they are about 7-8 years old. Kerron started running when he was about 14 or 15, but he didn't do a lot of specific work or specific events. He just kind of went out and ran distance in the morning and a couple of quarters on the track and was the best high school athlete in the country. I say he's a baby, not from a maturity standpoint or from how long he has been running, but from his knowledge of the sport."
"Without putting some numbers or marks on it, and I have had some great athletes, he may be the most talented athlete I have worked with."
PAT MCMAHON, BASEBALL: The Gators, 5-2, are ranked twelfth in the nation in the latest poll after taking two of three over the weekend against then second-ranked Miami. The Gators lost the first game of the series, 9-7, but they beat Miami Saturday in 11 innings, 2-1, then held off a Miami rally to win 14-11 Sunday.
Part of the Gators success early has been because of the outstanding pitching from junior righthander Bryan Ball. Ball pitched six shutout innings against Miami on Saturday, lowering his ERA to 0.75 for the season.
"Ryan Ball has made tremendous strides in controlling the running game," McMahon said. "He has made tremendous strides in PFP's (Pitcher's Fielding Plays)."
Florida is still not hitting the ball the way that McMahon would like, but the coach is pleased that the team is getting quality at-bats by working deep into pitch counts.
"One of the things that is pleasing offensively with our ball club is working deep in counts," he said. "One of the other things that is very important is when you can get pitches that you can handle and hit the ball out of the park in run producing situations. That is the neat thing about sports, when guys step up and produce in that way."
The Gators got a huge boost over the weekend from sophomore first baseman Matt LaPorta, who went 7-12 in the Miami series with three home runs. His two-run homer Sunday afternoon snuffed out a Miami rally and put the Gators over the top.
"Matt LaPorta has made tremendous strides," McMahon said. "Matt has really high expectations of himself. He is a guy that has great work ethic and we are very proud of his work so far and how he continues to make strides and moves on. That is a key thing in being able to perform. You can look bad in some at-bats and how you respond to that defensively and carry the next at-bat is how you get better."
The Gators return to action tonight at McKethan Stadium when they face Florida A&M. The Gators hammered FAMU, 17-2 last week, a game in which Brian Leclerc homered three times and Jeff Corsaletti went deep twice. Corsaletti leads the Gators with a .480 batting average and 12 runs batted in. Leclerc is hitting .444.
Freshman Tommy Wynn will get the start against FAMU, a game in which McMahon hopes to use at least four or five pitchers.
"We still have some questions on our pitching staff," McMahon explained. "There are a lot of guys that are dying to get an opportunity to perform. We will throw some guys out there that deserve to pitch."