As course, those resources --- operational budgets and facilities --- don't fall from the sky. The cash comes from Gator fans who busy tickets, sodas, t-shirts and everything else in sight. The cash comes from million-dollar boosters and families who buy the Gator Gold Card and everyone in between. So Gator fans can take some credit for not only providing the money with which to succeed, but also the atmosphere during competitions that help both student-athlete performance and recruiting.
Ten Teams Post Top-Ten Finishes
The Gators entered the final weeks of the sports year ranked fifth in the current all-sports standings. The Gators trailed only Stanford, UCLA, Texas and Notre Dame. Among other teams of interest, Georgia was number 13, Tennessee 15 and LSU 17. Florida State may be having its best year ever, and was ranked #20 and that was before the Seminoles won the men's outdoor track and field title.
Leading the way of course is the national title in men's basketball. Anytime you win it all, no matter the sports it's a great accomplishment. To win the first in the history of one of the nation's largest states is remarkable.
Right on the heels of Billy Donovan's squad is the men's golf team of Buddy Alexander. The Gators caught Oklahoma State on the final day, but late birdies gave the championships to the Cowboys and the Gators had to settle for second. The women's tennis team reached the semi-finals of the NCAA's, giving Roland Thornquist's squad a tie for third.
Rhonda Faehn's gymnastics team is next with the fourth-place finish while the Gators claim fifth in volleyball and men's swimming and diving. The women's golf team was a pleasant surprise with a sixth-place finish. Men's tennis and indoor track and field both finished ninth and the women's swimming and diving team grabbed tenth place. The Gators also got top 40 points from football (16th), soccer (t-33), women's basketball (t-33), women's outdoor track (37) and softball (t-33).
Lots Of Room For Improvement
While the final standings won't be known until after the College World Series, it seems the Gators will hold on to a top ten finish despite a number of disappointing finishes. While some teams may be hard-pressed to match or improve their finish next year, I see a lot of places where the Gators could see teams earn significant additional points in 2006-07.
Topping the list is soccer where Becky Burleigh's program is due for a post-season run. Solid recruits, a quality transfer now eligible and much needed experience in goal should add up to a Sweet 16 or better on the soccer field. I would expect to see more points from the track programs as well. NCAA outdoors produced two of the most disappointing finishes in school history, but that's likely to change in a hurry. The Gator swim teams could well move up from #5 and #10, though that won't generate a ton of points.
But no program is more likely to significantly upgrade is point production than baseball. Yes, expectations will be down in 2007 after a very disappointing season, but Pat McMahon's history and that of the Florida program indicator a bounce back season is quite likely.
So even though the SEC trophy will reside in Athens for a year, the Gators have much to be proud of for this past school year. We will examine the highlights beginning next week when we count down the top ten Gator stories of 2005-06.