Larry Vettel's Women's Sports Weekly

With a 16-match winning streak the Florida women's tennis team is back where it belongs, on the verge of a shot at the Gators' fifth NCAA championship. Florida has beaten Baylor and Southern Cal in the first two days of the NCAA Tournament in Athens and the Gators are as healthy as they've been all year.

The second-ranked Gators will face 11th-ranked Texas in the semifinals Saturday and should Florida win, next up will be the winner of number 12 Clemson and top-ranked Stanford, the defending champions. Stanford is unbeaten for two years now. Their last loss was to Florida in the 2003 National Championship match.

Florida's domination of South Carolina State and Florida International last past weekend was more than just warming up for another tournament run. It was the final step towards exorcising the demons from last year's second round loss to Miami. I guess it's more than a little ironic that Miami is one of only two hosts this year to get upset in the first two rounds.

Florida's win also included a milestone victory for Gator senior Zerene Reyes. The diminutive native of Mexico is a tremendous success story. At barely four feet ten inches tall, Reyes a tad short… for a gymnast. Yet the tireless lefty from Mexico posted her 100th career victory in the win over FIU. Reyes got her 100th career doubles win Friday over Southern Cal, making her just the fifth Florida woman to reach 100 wins in both singles and doubles. She joins Nicole Arendt, Dawn Buth, Stephanie Nickitas and Jessica Lehnhoff in that elite group.

You may have noticed the absence of Florida's all-time greatest player on that list. Well, Lisa Raymond managed just 84 singles wins in her two years as a Gator. She was a great doubles player --- where she's made a fortune as a professional --- but since Florida clinched so many matches in singles play during her time here (1992-93) she rarely got to play. Raymond still has one record that should last. Her 84-4 mark in singles is far and away the best won/loss percentage (.954) in school history. Who's the next best? Well that would be Zerene Reyes at .873 (101-15).

To give you an idea as to what it would take for Reyes to catch Raymond in winning percentage. Try 194 consecutive wins!

Eighth Isn't Enough

In the last ten years the Florida women's outdoor track squad has claimed three SEC Championships and finished second on two other occasions. So you know it has to be killing Coach Tom Jones and his group that the Gators could only manage an eighth-place showing in the conference meet last weekend. A combination of injuries, sub-par performances and player departures left Florida a shell of the highly ranked squad it was heading in. I don't know what kind of impact that eight-spot will have on Florida's eventual all-sports standing in the SEC, but it's just a shame.

We often wonder about sports in society, whether it's a positive example of the values of perseverance, dedication and skill. Or whether it creates a disproportional importance to things athletic as the expense of others things, such as academics. When two star college athletes walk on their teammates before a major event, you gotta wonder.

Title IX created opportunities for women to earn scholarships to major universities because of their athletic skill. It was a shamefully overdue piece of legislation which, while flawed, ended decades of discrimination. I remember the how the phrase "you've come a long way baby" transitioned from a cigarette company to a motto for women's rights both in college athletics and the work place. Women's sports have brought the University of Florida great pride and recognition without the off-the-field incidents that their male counterparts often inflict. Think about it: when's the last time a female student-athlete was arrested at a downtown club? Roughed up the person she was dating? Even though that changed somewhat when Candice Scott and Liz Wanless walked out --- you've come a long way baby indeed.

Softball big Winners/Losers

The Florida softball team might as well ride the highest, fastest roller coaster it can find, because this team has specialized in ups and downs the last several weeks. The Gators were cruising along at 30-10 before a seven-game losing streak placed all their goals in jeopardy. They responded with five straight wins, including a doubleheader sweep of FSU and were a confident bunch heading into the SEC Tournament right here in Gainesville. Well that confidence was no help as the Gators were taken out in two straight games, being outscored 13-1 in the process.

Well that "downer" lasted all of three days before the Gators were awarded one of 16 NCAA Regional hosting opportunities. Florida lost to Bethune-Cookman, 3-2, Friday in the first round of the all-Florida regional that also includes South Florida and Central Florida. Coach Karen Johns' team will try to rebound against that loss against UCF Saturday. If the Gators are to make it out of this regional to a Super Regional, they better pack their hitting shoes. The Gators have scored only three runs in their last three games of this roller-coaster season.

The winner of this regional will likely play at Texas in a best-of-three matchup for a berth in the Softball World Series.

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