All Sports Finishes Never Cease to Amaze

I've been covering the Gator athletic program since the firing of Doug Dickey almost 30 years ago. That means I have watched virtually every Gator team compete in the 25 years that All-Sports standings have been kept nationally. Yet it still amazes and somewhat awes me that the Gators have finished in the nation's top 10 for each of those 25 years.

Think about that. For a quarter century Florida has been in the very upper echelon of complete sports programs each and every year. There's been no slump. There's been no let down. There's been no "off year". There's been nothing but excellence year after year.

This year the Gators finished sixth in the nation, and it's one of the most impressive finishes in recent memory. The reason I find this year so special is that it reflects the remarkable balance in the Gator program. Florida did not get any NCAA Tournament points from either basketball program, nor did the Gators get much from baseball. Football had a decent year, but a 16th place finish in the final coaches' poll is far from overwhelming.

So how did they do it?

It starts with a big "Thank You" to the women in Orange and Blue. Florida got third place finishes from softball and tennis and gymnastics finished fourth at NCAAs. Add in a sixth place finish in swimming and diving and the top four performances this year were all turned in by Gator women's squads. Florida women also delivered top ten finishes in soccer, volleyball, golf and both indoor and outdoor track. That gives the ladies nine of Florida's 12 top-10 finishes with the guys only coming through in swimming, tennis and indoor track. Sure other teams scored points, but the big points come in the top-10 finishes and that's where the Florida women dominated their male counterparts.

The second chunk of credit, of course goes to Florida Athletic Director Jeremy Foley, his staff and the support of Gator Nation. Foley has never lost his desire to see the Gators enjoy success in each and every sport. That desire doesn't just involve "hoping" good things happen. It means committing time, effort and resources to make sure every sport is fully funded and every coach has the tools with which to succeed. It also means making good hiring decisions and, frankly good firing decision, too.

Looking Ahead to Next Year

I know everyone is concerned about steroids in this day and age, but one way or the other the Florida Gators need a testosterone infusion for the 2008-09 school year. Florida's guys have to step it up in order to hold on to, or ideally improve that No. 6 ranking. And there's a very good chance that will happen. Florida football looks like a certain top ten team to me and Billy Donovan's squad will not miss the NCAA Tournament two years in a row. The baseball team is in good position to be a better postseason team next year, and the golf team should move up from 11th.

The guys need to come through because some of the women's teams may be hard pressed to repeat their performances. Rhonda Faehn (gymnastics), Mary Wise (volleyball) and Becky Burleigh (soccer) all graduated outstanding senior classes, as did Greg Troy (swimming). Burleigh and Wise will be the hardest-pressed to cope with their losses, but historically they've always found a way.

No matter how the women perform next year, Florida should expect and receive more scoring from the men's teams. So come this fall the edict is clear: Gentlemen, start your engines!

Questions or comments? Contact FightinGators.com's Larry Vettel


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