Giving Other Sports Their Due - Part 3

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. Today, in part three of our series we remember great seasons for Gator Women's Tennis and Volleyball.

#12 Men's Tennis 2000
#11 Women's Tennis 1980
#10 Soccer 1996
#9 Women's Basketball 1997

#8 Women's Tennis 1988 -----
Andy Brandi was in his fourth year at the University of Florida and was building a team that was capable of competing at the highest level. The Gators were coming off a third place finish in the NCAA Championships and eager to take another step. The Gators opened with six straight wins before dropped a match to Southern Cal. Then Brandi's Gators got going. Florida avenged and USC loss and took out defending NCAA Champ Stanford in winning the National Indoor Title.

The Gators rolled through the SEC schedule, winning all nine dual matches and then cruised through the early rounds of the NCAA Tournament. Florida bettered UCLA to reach the Finals for the first time in school history before dropping the rematch with Stanford.

Florida has had a number of near misses at the NCAAs but what made this season extra special was the singles tournament that followed. Gator teammates Shawn Stafford and Halle Cioffi worked their way through the 64 player field and became the first teammates to play for the NCAA Title. Stafford won the showdown 7-6, 6-4 to become Florida's first individual champion.

#7 Volleyball 1992 ----- Mary Wise had made an impressive debut as the Gator head coach in 1991, sharing the SEC Title with established powerhouse LSU and reaching the final of the SEC Tournament and the elite eight of the NCAA Tournament each time losing to those same Tigers. But 1992 is the season that really began the dominating run that Florida volleyball remains on to this day. Florida dropped an early season match to UCLA, but wins over Brigham Young and Notre Dame showed this team was going to be special. Next came a run through the SEC, including a win on the road over LSU. The Gators proved that was no fluke by beating the Tigers again in the SEC Tournament Final, crushing LSU 15-2 in game four.

Florida's first NCAA Tournament match was a three game sweep over FSU and another sweep over Kentucky put the Gator back in the Regional Final for the second straight year. This time, Florida was ready to take the program to another level and rallied from two games down to defeat Texas and earn the Gators' first trip to the Final Four.

The Gators drew UCLA in the Final Four and felt very good about their chances in the rematch before an ankle injury at practice hobbled star hitter Gudie Staub. The Gators battled the Bruins with all they had, but they just didn't have enough. Still 1992 showed what Florida could (and eventually did) become and thus it ranks as one of the best non-title seasons in school history, even though it's only the second-best such season for volleyball.

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


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