Giving Other Sports Their Due - Part 6

Some resent calling collegiate sports other than football and men's basketball "non revenue" sports. They prefer the moniker "Olympic Sports". But that doesn't make much sense since the Olympics have men's basketball, but not cross country and golf (except for a short time). Plus the IOC voted to discontinue baseball and softball – a vote that will be revisited in 2010.

Well our review of some of the greatest Gator seasons that did not result in a national championship wasn't overly concerned about getting the label right. But we did want to get the seasons right. And it wasn't easy. Florida's 25 straight years of top ten finishes in the All-Sports standings is evidence that there have been tons of outstanding teams in Gainesville that did not win it all. We chose a dozen teams and, frankly volleyball alone might have had that many worthy of consideration.

Be that as it may, we've listed ten of the top 12 seasons that stood about above all others and before we go to the top two, we list them one more time.

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

#8 Women's Tennis 1988
#7 Volleyball 1992
#6 Baseball 2005
#5 Gymnastics 2007

#4 Volleyball 2003
#3 Baseball 1988

#2 Softball 2008 -----
Had they reached the finals of the College World Series the Gators of this spring would have been my number one choice, hands down. Still this season was mind-bogglingly dominant for third year head coach Tim Walton and his squad. The Gators shattered every school record in site, both individually and collectively and put together a season that may never be surpassed statistically. You see the NCAA is putting a 56-game limit on in 2009, so 59 regular season wins will be tough to top.

Florida expected to be good this year, but nothing like what happened. The Gators had to replace their top three home run hitters including the every day shortstop and the winningest pitcher in school history. Still, with a solid core of returning players and one of the nation's best recruiting classes, Walton was confident the Gators would be better. I'd say he turned out to be right.

Florida delivered a message right out of the box with 19 wins to open the season. A one-run loss to Long Beach State was followed by eight wins heading into a doubleheader at Alabama. The Crimson Tide took game one and was on its way to a sweep when Mary Ratliff smashed a grand slam to give Florida the win. Neither team would lose another SEC game the rest of the way. The Gators ended the regular season 59-2 and added three wins in the SEC Tournament including another win over ‘Bama in the final powered by another Ratliff slam.

Florida hosted an NCAA Regional in Gainesville and promptly won two games before being surprised by UCF in extra innings ended the Gators' win streak at 37. Florida won the elimination game and prepared to host a Super Regional for the first time. Traditional power California game to Gainesville and battled the Gators hard, but a pair of 4-2 victories earned Walton and his charges their first trip to the College World Series.

The Gators were quickly on the ropes after losing their first game in Oklahoma City, but once again the resilient Gators bounced back winning three straight games to force a showdown with Texas A&M for a spot in the finals. This time, the Gators couldn't muster the clutch hit and the Aggies won the game 1-0. It was just the fifth loss of the year and all five were one run decisions.

The 2008 Gators outscored their opponents 413-94, out-homered their opponents 63-8 and won 70 games. They did it all with just one senior (Ratliff) on the roster, making the Gators strong contenders to return to Oklahoma City in a year, but the '08 season will always have a special place in the pantheon of Gator sports campaigns.

#1 Swimming and Diving 1988 ----- I suspect this season will come as a surprise to most reading this column, but it was an amazing campaign. And it's quite fresh in my mind with the US Olympic Swimming Trials going on as I write it. The thing that is most remarkable about this team is that it didn't win the NCAA Title. In the Olympics only two swimmers can qualify for an event, but in the NCAA there are no such limits. As a result Stanford came into the NCAA Championship with 954 swimmers. Okay, that's an exaggeration, but the Cardinal had so many people at NCAA's they seemingly needed a separate warm up pool.

Event after event the Florida Gators would win, but Stanford would finish second, fourth, fifth, seventh, tenth, and so on. Florida had greatness on its side, but Stanford had excellence AND incredible depth. Gator women won 13 events that weekend. Dara Torres (sound familiar) won three as did Julie Gorman and Tami Bruce. The Gators also won four, count ‘em FOUR relays as well. Florida had the best swimmers in the nation and those swimmers performed at their highest level, yet they came up short in their quest for the NCAA Title.

I put this season at the top of the list because unlike the other teams this one did everything possible to win. They outperformed their opponents right up to the final day, but were simply outnumbered. Winning 13 events should always be enough to win an NCAA Title, but there just weren't enough Gators to go around.

I await your comments and critique.

Questions or comments? Contact's Larry Vettel

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