Giving Other Sports Their Due

Well we spent a week looking at the best football seasons that came up short of a national title and followed that up with the same examination of Gator basketball. But as we point often in this space, Florida's greatness as an athletic program is in the Gators' success across the board from football to golf and baseball to cross country.

There are too many teams to narrow it down to the six best non-championship seasons in school history, so instead we'll look at the dozen best seasons, two each day. The 12 seasons are spread out among nine Gator teams and we left out some really special campaigns.

#12 Men's Tennis 2000 ----- Ian Duvenhage's team was coming off a strong 20-6 season that included a trip to the NCAA Quarterfinals and was expected to be good. They were more than that. This has to be viewed as the best team in school history after posting a 28-4 record, winning the SEC Championship, SEC Tournament and advancing to the NCAA Semi-Finals for the first time in school history. Defending NCAA Singles Champ Jeff Morrison teamed up with Nathan Overholser and Justin O'Neal to give Florida a tremendous top three in the lineup.

The Gators actually lost their regular season match with Tennessee and shared the conference title with the Vols while also dropping matches to Texas A&M and UCLA. The Gators won the first two rounds of the NCAA at home before heading to Athens, Georgia and knocking off Southern Cal and Duke before falling to Stanford in the semis. O'Neal (42) and Morrison (38) finished with two of the five best single season wins totals in UF history. They also ended the year ranked first (O'Neal 120) and second (Morrison 117) in career wins.

The doubles team of Morrison and Overholser (26) captured the third most single season wins the Gators have ever had. O'Neal was the SEC Player of the year, and all three guys were All-Americans.

#11 Women's Tennis 1980 ----- It's kinda goofy to choose a season in which the Gators managed just a 15-3 record, but this team did something so remarkable I think it raised the bar of expectations and potential for Gator Women's Tennis. Liz Broughton was the head coach for the Florida Women and led the team to the Florida State title that year as well as the unofficial SEC Championship. This was the last year before the SEC began sanctioning women's sports championships. That set the stage for the Gators to make history at the AIAW National Tournament. Florida faced Southern Cal in the semifinals and that was supposed to be the end of the season. USC had won more than 60 straight matches and was the two-time defending National Champ. But led by Cissie Donigan the Gators shocked the Trojans to reach the finals. Florida lost there, but the win over USC showed that Florida could play at the highest level.

A side note to that upset over USC. That spring Gainesville had a new weekly sports talk show called "Sportalk" hosted by David Stirt and me. During the match Florida's new Assistant Sports Information Director kept calling in with match by match results, finally announcing "they did it" in the final ten minutes of the program. I was so impressed with my initial introduction to Quenta Payton that I married her 16 months later.

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


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