Larry Vettel's Womens Sports Weekly

Conventional wisdom in sports has always been don't replace "The Guy." Be the guy who replaces the guy who replaced "The Guy." It certainly fits what Urban Meyer is doing in succeeding Ron Zook who tried to fill the enormous void created by the departure of Steve Spurrier.

Other schools will have to face that issue eventually, although the two leading coaching icons of the day, Bobby Bowden and Joe Paterno are making life much easier for their eventual replacements with their declining performances in the latter years of their careers.

Maybe it's just an issue for high profile teams like the ones I mentioned or UCLA or North Carolina in basketball. Certainly following Mike Krzyzewski will be incredibly difficult.

Enter Roland Thornqvist

When Andy Brandi decided to move on after 17 phenomenal years coaching Florida women's tennis, he created an immeasurable void. Brandi posted a 460-43 record at UF including three NCAA Titles. Certainly it would take a nut case to try and follow that act.

Well Roland Thornqvist is anything but nuts, and in less than four years at UF he is carving out a pretty remarkable track record himself. Last week's win at the Southeastern Conference Tournament may not rank with the NCAA Title he led Florida to two years ago but it could well rank as his second most impressive coaching accomplishment.

Florida had every reason to struggle this year after losing top player Alexis Gordon prior to the start of the season. Losing the #1 player in tennis is arguably the most damaging because everybody moves up in the singles rotation. Thus you weaken all six spots in the lineup. Gordon had a career record of 104-20 in singles and 75-27 in doubles. That's a huge loss to suffer AFTER recruiting is finished.

Five weeks ago it seemed Florida was about to join the mortals of the tennis world. Consecutive losses to Vanderbilt and Kentucky in mid-March virtually assured UF would not retain its SEC title. But since then Florida has been flawless, winning 12 straight matches including the three in a row in Tuscaloosa with the SEC Tournament Title on the line. The Gators won despite dropping both the doubles point and the majority of first sets in singles. Florida gutted it out in beating the SEC Champ Kentucky. It would not be a surprise to see Florida and Kentucky meeting up again… perhaps in the late rounds of the NCAA Championships.

With the tournament title Thornqvist has two SEC titles and 4 tournament titles to his credit. His record at UF now stands at a rather gaudy 96-7 for a .932 winning percentage. Yet I guarantee you he thinks more about last year's second-round loss to Miami than he does any of the victories. Maybe that's what makes great coaches. The best seem to allow wins to all blend together while losses are preserved with every detail in mind. Fortunately for Thornqvist and the Gators… there are very few losses to remember.

Gymnastics Future Bright

After failing to reach the NCAA Super Six for the second time in three years the Gator Gymnastics team will enter the off-season with mixed feelings. Sure, Florida can point to an NCAA scoring quirk that kept them out of the top six with the sixth best score in the first session but the bottom line is the results. Florida has yet to have its best performance on the greatest stage and that's what it takes to win it all.

The 2006 Gators will have loads of talent, but will have to replace two really special seniors. Orley Szmuch was a four-time All-American and had a wonderful career at UF. This year as a tough one for Miss Personality as she suffered through an injury-plagued senior season. Florida also has to replace Erinn Dooley, a two-time Regional Balance Beam Champ and seven-time All-American.

Rhonda Faehn's fourth Gator squad should be headlined by Ashley Reed who enjoyed a remarkable rookie season and poised, polished junior-to-be Breanne King. Add in Savannah Evans, Katie Rue, Tiffany Murry and Samantha Lutz and Florida has a pretty good lineup right there. Faehn will also return some performers who didn't compete as much this year and a reportedly outstanding recruiting class.

It's not easy competing in a league with Alabama and Georgia, let alone LSU, Auburn and so on. But it's not supposed to be easy. Florida beat each of those teams at some point this year. For 2006 the goal has to be to beat them as late in the season as possible.

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Have a great week.

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