Larry Vettel's Womens Sports Weekly

Karen Johns' Gator softball team continues on a record pace with a SEC opening sweep of Arkansas. The Gators dominance of the Lady Backs (cumulative score 19-1) gave Florida its first 3-0 start ever in conference play. The Gators have succeeded for a number of reasons including the big bats of Lindsey Cameron and Kristin Butler and excellent pitching of Mandy Shuerman.

But Florida has been guided by another power as well. The Power of "2"…. As in two Stevens sisters. Sophomore twins Shelley and Stacey Stevens have been crucial in the Gators' success this year, but in very different ways.

Stacey is Florida's top pitcher with 12 wins in the circle and a much-improved ERA of 1.88. She handled a tough situation last year when pressed into duty after an injury to Florida's top pitcher Jenny Gladding. And she responded well, earning 14 wins. Obviously triskadeckaphobia is no factor since she wears the number "13" on her back. She'll go for win number 13 on the season against Ole Miss on Friday.

Shelley was Florida's utility player extraordinaire last year when she led Florida with 18 stolen bases. This year she's the regular centerfielder and a key to Florida's offense. The power of "2" certainly applies there, where Shelley Stevens is second on the team in hits, runs, batting average and stolen bases. She even moved up to number-two in the Florida lineup in the Gators series finale' at Arkansas.

The Stevens sisters helped Gainesville Buchholz High School to three state final four appearances during their high school years. Who's to say where the "power of two" might lead Gator softball this season and in the years to come?

Basketball Readies For A Defining Season

Carolyn Peck's third season with the women's basketball team ended with another loss, this time to South Florida in the WNIT. It left the Gators 14-15 on the year giving Peck two losing seasons in three years in Gainesville. This one is particularly frustrating for UF because the team was 12-5, 3-1 in the SEC after a win at South Carolina in mid-January. But Florida could not sustain its good play, losing ten of its last 12 games including the final five contests of the season. This year and Peck's first at UF, 2003 are the only two losing seasons for Florida since 1988.

By all accounts, Peck and her staff have signed a strong freshman class for next year, and that group will have to contribute a lot…. an awful lot. With talented but troubled forward Bernie Mosby not returning to the team, the freshmen will have to do a lot of heavy lifting. Mosby led the Gators in scoring (15.5) and rebounding (8.6) and those are incredibly tough numbers to replace. Add in the departure of seniors Tamia Williams (11.8) and Tashia Morehead (9.4) and Florida will be without its top three scorers next season.

Returning for Peck and company will be Brittany Davis (8.1/4.5) Danielle Santos (6.7/3.0) Dalila Eshe (4.9/4.6) and Sarah Lowe (4.5/3.3) but that represents less than 25 points and 16 rebounds a game.

Florida spent big money to hire Peck away from the WNBA when Carol Ross stepped down in the spring of 2002. Everyone (including me) thought it was a great hire. The 2005-06 season will let us all know if we were right.

Swimmers Grab Another Top Five

Florida's fourth place finish at the NCAA Championships reinforces my view that Greg Troy has the Gators now cemented among the nation's elite programs… just as they were years ago. Eleven of Troy's swimmers earned All-American honors up in Indiana, including five such honors for sophomore Candace Weiman.

Weiman's week was even more impressive when you consider she broke one of the oldest records in the Florida record book in the 100-yard butterfly. Weiman covered the distance in 52.75 seconds, earning a third place finish and breaking Dara Torres' school mark which was set back in 1988.

Conference Title Within Reach?

Florida's hopes for an SEC women's tennis title took a beating two weeks ago when the Gators fell in consecutive matches to Kentucky and Vanderbilt. But Florida may have assured itself an ACC Crown instead. The Gator Women beat # 7 Duke Wednesday, just three days after defeating ninth-ranked North Carolina. Add those wins to an earlier triumph over FSU and the Gators have certainly proven a point in that league.

The win over Duke was a 4-zip score with Florida leading in two of three matches when they stopped play after the team competition was settled. Freshman Alex Liles posted the clinching win by a 6-4, 6-0 score. Perhaps those losses in the SEC will turn out to be an aberration after all.

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