It was a superb season top to bottom for Gator sports with another top five finish in the National All-Sports competition and another year of winning both the men's and women's All Sports trophies within the SEC.
In the first of two parts we'll look at the most outstanding performances among Gator Women's teams, coaches and student-athletes. Feel free to argue with these selections all you want. Many of the decisions were very difficult to settle on.
Team of the Year --- Gymnastics --- This was a tough choice, but to me no team overcame more adversity to place a high national finish than Rhonda Faehn's team. The Gators had more injuries than I could count and ended up having to have five gymnasts go all-around at the NCAA Championships. Despite losing competitor after competitor Faehn and her squad kept on plugging, kept on persevering and ended up finishing fourth in the nation.
Coach of the Year --- Amanda Butler --- In her second season with the Gators Butler found herself starting a lineup without a single player six feet tall. There aren't many high school teams that do that. Still, thanks in part to the toughest basketball player on campus, Marshae Dotson this team won 24 games including a 9-5 SEC record. The Gators returned to the NCAA Tournament and advanced to the second round. It was an incredible, overachieving season and gives promise what Butler might be able to do when she has the size, talent and depth other top teams enjoy.
Moment of the Year --- Ali Gardiner --- Florida's senior first baseman was really struggling in the postseason after an outstanding regular season. Then she stepped up to the plate in bottom of the seventh inning against Alabama in the College World Series. The Gators trailed 5-2 and were down to their final out when Gardiner lofted a high, deep fly to left field that kept going and going and going. A game-ending walk off grand slam put the Gators into the finals of the CWS for the first time in school history and was a fitting exclamation point on Gardiner's Florida career.
Athlete of the Year --- Stacey Nelson ---- A very difficult award to choose but you just can't overlook the tremendous end to a remarkable Gator career. Nelson was 41 games, registered 357 strikeouts, posted a microscopic 0.61 ERA and threw 22 shutouts. Perhaps the most amazing stat of all is that Nelson gave up one home run in 285-plus innings in the circle. She will leave UF with every meaningful single season and career pitching record. Perhaps the greatest tribute of all is that Coach Tim Walton says no one else will wear Nelson's uniform number 42 as long as he's coaching the Gators.
Unsung Athlete of the Year --- Mariam Kevkhishvili --- Do you even know who this junior is? Well she is now the two-time NCAA Shot Put Champion after repeating that accomplishment in June. Kevkhishvili is one of the most dominant athletes in the nation even though she often toils in anonymity.
Freshman of the Year --- Kelly Murphy --- Angie McGinnis posted the only four triple-doubles in Gator history during her four year career. It took Murphy less than a year to top that. The freshman from Illinois posted six such performances in her rookie season and had the best all around first season in school history. Murphy led the Gators in kills per set (3.22) and hitting percentage (.357) despite spending just half her time as a hitter. The other half of the time the multi-talent lefty was Florida's setter, averaging 5.50 assists per set. Murphy was also second the Gators with 1.88 digs per set and 24 service aces. She was named a third team All-American and was named the National Freshman of the Year.
So those are our choices among the great Gator women's programs. We'll pick the guys tomorrow, and no, they won't all go to Tim Tebow.
Gator Women End of the Year Awards
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