Coach Peck's round-ballers finished the SEC tournament with a close 62-58 loss to Alabama Thursday night. The Gators have been without star forward Bernice Mosby for last couple of games but they were still able to build a 14-point lead early in the contest before caving to the relentless and emotional Crimson Tide in the SEC Tournament in Greenville, South Carolina.
The Gators (14-14) were led by Junior Brittany Davis who has stepped her game with the loss of Mosby's suspension. Davis led the Gators with a career high 16 points and nine rebounds in the contest.
"I think that Brittany Davis has had the ability to shine," Coach Peck said. "She has taken a lot of pride in stepping up for her team. She has been that blue collar worker that will do whatever else doesn't get done. Now she has taken the role of, (she has) to get it done and do her part."
The Gators look to be most likely headed to the Women's NIT. Their high strength of schedule should assure them a chance in the prestigious post-season draw. Coach Peck and the Lady Gators will relish the chance to continue playing.
"Any opportunity to play in the post season is definitely an accomplishment," she said. "I can't see that in any way as being a disappointment. We are going to be one team that will be continuing to play and that excites me and this team. When you are still in a position to prepare for the next game instead of working for the post season workouts, that definitely is exciting and we look forward to the opportunity to play."
Peck plans to use the NIT as a spring board for her team next season.
"I think if you look at the number of teams who have played and done well in the NIT, they have propelled themselves later in the NCAA tournament into being the ranked teams," said Peck. "The post season experience is so vital for you to prepare your program to take the next step and get to the next level."
The Gators will wait word on Sunday or Monday as to their fate and destination for post season.
Softball Coach Karen Johns
The 15th ranked Gator softball team is coming off a busy week of seven games in six days. The Gators posted a 4-3 record on the week and all three losses were to eighth ranked Michigan. The Gators won four games away from Gainesville in the Louisville Slugger Invitational in Tampa.
"I liked our improvement," said Coach Karen Johns, pleased with her team's showing in Tampa. "I thought we came out swinging the bats much better. I thought our young kids really had some great at bats against some really tough pitchers there. I like some of the things some of the younger kids did. I thought Savanna Kelly did a great job of coming in and had the home run off of Michigan and really drove the ball well for us this weekend."
The Gators pitching showed up well in all games except those against mighty Michigan. They are fighting against a little injury bug in the rotation at the moment.
"I thought we maintained well through the rest of the weekend," Johns said. "We were short again. We were without Mandy Schuerman. She went the first inning of that first night and we didn't have her for the rest of the weekend. I thought our other two kids battled very well."
The Gators rely heavily on are sophomore pitcher Stacey Stevens. Stevens came to Florida with all-world honors and she has had some strong performances for the Gators. Johns expects her to even get better.
"I think Stacey is still learning it is a tough responsibility being the number one and having to go day in and day out against the best teams," Johns said. "She is still learning how to do that. I think her mental preparation will get better."
Coach Johns watches her star youngster and is waiting when that light will shine all the time. She takes solace in seeing the same scenario play out for other great athletes on the University of Florida campus. She realizes she has to draw that fine line between pushing her too hard and stepping back and letting her ease into the role.
"I sit and watch men's basketball and I saw how Billy (Donovan) approached it with David (Lee)," Johns said. "I think it is a little of both, they have to get in a comfort zone, but at the same time, you can't lower the expectation for them. I think that is what I am trying to focus on. All of a sudden they realize, I can be there and play at that level. I think Stacey has stepped up to that level, but she is only a sophomore. Sometimes we forget she is still learning, too. She did have the comfort of sitting behind Jenny for a long time last year. I like her progress, I like what she has done, I like the way she is talking back with us and giving us better feedback. I think she has the capability, without question. She has never failed in her life. There is no question that it is mental. Physically she has ironed out her kinks. She is a great kid and her teammates have really pushed her and I think that security of knowing that they are there for her has helped her too."
The Gators start a seven game road swing, heading off to Long Beach, California for a four game stint on March 11-12 before starting their conference schedule against Arkansas on the road on March 19.
Men's Indoor Track and Field Coach Mike Holloway
The second ranked Gators' men's track team heads back to Fayetteville, Arkansas for the NCAA championships this weekend with a shot to bring home a championship. The Gators just left the SEC Championships from the same site and Coach Holloway likes the familiarity with the surroundings. Arkansas, which edged out the Gators for the SEC Championship, will be on its home turf for the meet but the Gators should also be comfortable with the fast track. Coach Holloway says, "We need to make it our home this weekend."
Despite coming up just short at the SEC Championship, Holloway liked the team's performance last weekend.
"We were a little disappointed we finished second, but overall I think we had a pretty good meet," he said. We had some great performances by individuals and relay teams."
Holloway thinks that his team is actually a better national team than a conference team at this point.
"We are looking forward to this weekend," he said. "We feel we have a better national squad than a conference squad. It was kind of exposed last week with the holes we have at the conference level. Right now we are focused on going out there this weekend, taking care of the Gators and see what we can get done."
Holloway is hoping that the athletes at the top end of the roster will pull the weight needed to get the Gators a national title. The Gators are very talented but not a deep team according to Holloway.
"If you look at our roster and some of the performances, you have guys like Kerron Clement who is top three in two different events, Josh Walker is number two, Mike Morrison is top four in two different events," said Holloway. "Our relay team is number one in the country. We have a better team as far as national. We have to work on getting better at the bottom end of the conference. There were some cheap points that were out there and we just didn't go get them. As a team we have to find a way to get better."
Holloway isn't worried about competing on the Razorback's home turf.
"It is just a necessary evil," he said. "There is a lot of talk about it being a home field advantage for them and it is something we have to deal with. The bottom line is, it is a 200 meter track for them, for us, and for everybody else. We can't get caught up in the fact that Arkansas is at home, and they get to sleep in their own beds, we just have to go back. We have been there, we feel comfortable. I never want to call Arkansas home, but we need to make it home this weekend."
Women's Tennis Coach Roland Thornqvist
Roland Thornqvist and his second ranked Gators are getting a lot of mileage from the freshman class. With only seven players on the entire roster, and three of them freshmen, the young Gators have to grow up fast.
Coach Thornqvist is just happy to get some matches in after a rainout at Texas last week. He knows the competition will get tougher.
"Two road wins versus LSU and Arkansas will certainly help us get ready for this coming weekend," he said. "We were still working off some rust from last week. At LSU I felt like we played real well in doubles and started off real slow in singles and worked our way into shape. It was a lot better against Arkansas. The rainout versus Texas definitely didn't help us. I would have rather seen us play a tough match against Texas, a 4-3 or 5-2 match, where we struggled a little bit. So far, we haven't really been tested."
The competition will step it up a notch as the gators will travel to sixth ranked Vanderbilt and seventh ranked Kentucky.
"This coming weekend will be real tough," Thornqvist said. "It will probably be indoors against Vanderbilt on Friday and hopefully outdoors against Kentucky. Both of those teams are better than the teams we have played."
His freshman class has had to jump in and win for the Gators from the get go. The missed matches were something that Thornqvist wanted to play to get more experience for his youngsters. Still, they are out there every time the team suits up and playing well when they do.
"They are getting to play a lot, that is for sure," he said. "In doubles, I think they are very good. Whitney Betnik is stepping up now and is starting to play some really good tennis. Before she came to Florida, she trained a lot but didn't play a lot of matches. You can see her progress now when she sees what it takes to win. She is going to be huge for us down the stretch, I am convinced of that. Alex Liles got banged up against LSU and we had to hold her out against Arkansas. Lolita (Franqulyan) our third freshman got to play some singles. She struggled a little against Arkansas, but ended up winning. She was a little rusty. We need all seven of ours to play."
The upside for the group of freshmen is huge and Thornqvist needs it to be.
"I think so," he agreed about the great potential of the group of freshmen. "They work really hard. In my four years here, this is the hardest working team that I have had here. Every day they go in and they learn new stuff, particularly the three freshmen. They are sort of aware of the legacy that Andy Brandi left and the championships. They are very determined not to let that slip. With the second round exit (in the tournament) last year, they feel like they really need to work hard not to let that happen again. They are good kids, they work hard, and they are going to be very good."
Women's Indoor Track and Field Coach Tom Jones
Coach Tom Jones figures the Gator women are poised for a top four finish at the NCAA Indoor Track and Field Championships in Fayetteville, Arkansas this weekend. It's the third time the Gators have traveled to Fayetteville and they have the talented athletes to make a run at a title.
"Our team is running very well right now and is projected to score about 40 points." Coach Jones said. "That has always put us in the top four, and I would be very disappointed if we don't go to nationals and compete that well."
On the track itself, his star performer is All-America Tiandra Ponteen, who has spent the indoor season blistering whoever she runs against.
"Our major hitters include Tiandra Ponteen in the 400," Jones said. "She has the fastest time in the United States and the fourth fastest time in the world."
The throws are Florida's team strength and one of the reasons the Gators have a shot to win it all.
"Candace Scott has the longest throw by a collegian and the second longest throw in the world in the weight throw," said Jones. "Rachel Longfors is ranked tenth in that event. Liz Wanless has had a great year, she has a 58-4 in the shot put and is ranked third in the US. She has beaten the competitors ahead of her. Our 4x400 is ranked eighth in the U.S. and we have beaten three teams ahead of us. I will be very surprised if we are not in the top four."
Coach Larry Judge coaches up the throwers and is one of the very best according to Jones.
"Coach Judge has the unique ability to get our throwers to throw at a higher level at national events," Jones said.
"Krystle Moss has done very well in the high jump," Jones added of his group that will be competing. "They have her projected to score a couple of points in the high jump and that would be a big plus for us."
According to Jones, it could com down to schools outside of the top four cutting in on points from some others in the top four.
"I really think it is going to get cut up a lot, Jones remarked. "They have five teams within ten points, if things get cut up enough we may come home with a national championship. Our goal is to win the national championship. We have been second two years in a row, third three years in a row and we are due for some breaks."