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The Everything School Weekly Review: Gators secure SEC titles, NCAA Tournament wins

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A new weekly review of all of Florida’s teams begins with a lot of hardware and success to discuss.

@GatorsBB

It’s been a while — more than four years — since we first formally called Florida the “Everything School” in print over here at Alligator Army. Now, that moniker and the corresponding hashtag are widely accepted ways to refer to the beyond formidable Florida Gators athletic department, and the feats by Florida’s multitude of successful programs that have always piled on top of each other have been helpfully branded as being the product of overall greatness by the athletic department itself.

It’s like we know what we’re doing, I guess?

Anyway: We haven’t always been the absolute best at covering all of those various teams in depth, and the way that each friggin’ one of them can’t go more than about a week without doing something remarkable means we’ve missed a lot of feats over time.

So here’s my means of rectifying that: A weekly recap, running on Thursdays, of everything the #EverythingSchool’s teams have been up to in the past week. It’ll be light on football and men’s basketball, probably — because we cover those teams slightly more regularly — and full of both retrospective at the week that was and perspective on what’s to come.

We’re calling it the Everything School Weekly Review. Here’s the first one.


Track teams sweep SEC Outdoor Championships

One of the interesting things about Mike Holloway’s tenure as the Florida Gators’ head track coach is that his men’s teams have won more national championships than SEC championships.

No, really: That’s true.

To be fair, Florida’s women, still without a national title under Holloway, have done more in SEC competition over the years under him. But the men did make some headway on that over the weekend — and the women won a title, too, as the Gators went to Tennessee and swept the SEC Outdoor Championships for the first time in program history.

On the men’s side, the victory was powered by — who else? — budding superstar Grant Holloway. Holloway (no relation to his coach) took first in both the 110-meter hurdles and the long jump, becoming just the second man ever to pull off that double at the SEC Outdoors, and ran the former event in 13.15 seconds, the No. 2 time in collegiate history. (The owner of the No. 1 time in collegiate history is Omar MacLeod, the reigning Olympic champion in the event.)

Holloway also helped Florida’s 4x100 and 4x400 relay teams finish third in their respective finals, piling up a total of 23 individual points that tied him for the best performance at the meet. His efforts helped secure more than a quarter of the Florida’s men’s 111 overall points.

15 more came from three competitors in both the hammer throw and triple jump, where Florida was led by second-place finisher Clayton Brown, who also took eight points for finishing second in the high jump, and posted the Gators men’s second-highest individual point total. Third on that list with 11 points each were freshman Cory Poole, whose fourth-place finish behind Holloway in the 110-meter hurdles and third-place finish in the 400-meter hurdles got him double-digit points on the weekend, and jumper KeAndre Bates, who scored in both the long and triple jump.

Florida’s women, meanwhile, got event titles from Sharrika Barnett (200 meters) and Avione Allgood (javelin throw) and 16 points from jumper Yanis David, who finished second in both the long and triple jump. Barnett would also help clinch the crown for the Gators by running the anchor leg of the 4x400 on Sunday, helping Florida fend off LSU for the Outdoors title — and sparking a dogpile on the track.

For Florida’s men, the SEC Outdoors title is the sixth in program history, but just the third under Holloway — who has steered Florida to four outdoor national titles this decade, including the last two. For the women, it’s also the sixth SEC outdoor title in program history, and the third under Holloway — but Florida’s women have yet to break through for a national title in outdoor track.

Both teams, of course, should be threats to win national championships at the NCAA Outdoor Championships, which take place in early June in Oregon.


Softball captures SEC Tournament crown

Similarly to Florida’s storied track teams, Florida’s softball team has a weird recent history with the SEC Tournament: Its two NCAA championships came in years when the Gators didn’t even reach the final of the SEC’s postseason event.

That history can’t repeat itself this year, as the Gators stormed through the SEC Tournament for their first title since 2013.

The Gators downed Alabama, Tennessee, and then upstart South Carolina over three days in Columbia, Missouri over the weekend, coming back in the first and last games and jumping all over the Vols in between. Aleshia Ocasio got the wins in those first and last games, with Kelly Barnhill getting her 26th win in just five innings of work in between, and the Gators were powered at the plate by Ocasio, Nicole DeWitt, and Amanda Lorenz, who combined for five home runs over three days.

The SEC Tournament title is just Florida’s fourth all-time, and the Gators’ first during their current four-year string of regular-season conference championships.

It also probably helped boost Florida’s profile just a bit prior to Sunday’s announcement of the NCAA Tournament field, which saw Florida installed as the No. 2 overall seed in the 64-team bracket. The Gators will host Ohio State, South Florida, and Bethune-Cookman in Regional play beginning on Friday, and would be in line to host a Super Regional against the victor from a Texas A&M-hosted Regional next week.

And while anything is possible in postseason play, Florida has not lost to Ohio State in two meetings and has won more than 75 percent of its meetings against USF and just under 90 percent of its contests with Bethune-Cookman in program history.


Baseball claims SEC title

The SEC title we did cover over the weekend was Florida clinching at least a share of the regular-season title in baseball by taking two of three from Georgia in the Gators’ final home series of the regular season.

Florida did fail to sweep the series by falling in a Senior Day finale on Sunday — and, weirdly, Florida hasn’t swept a series since mid-April, winning its last four by a 2-1 count. But the Gators’ 19-series win streak remains intact, and only this weekend’s trip to lowly Mississippi State, which is sixth in the SEC West standings and situated near the NCAA Tournament bubble, stands between Florida and a full regular season without a series loss, something that has never before been accomplished in program history.

Florida also needs just one win against the Bulldogs to secure the SEC regular-season championship outright, as the Gators’ 20-7 mark in league play means Arkansas (17-10) is still capable of tying them for the title if Florida loses out and Arkansas wins out.

Of course, for that to happen, the No. 1 team in the country — and one with just six road losses on the year — would have to drop three games to a team that parted ways with its coach just weeks into the season.

In other words: Florida should have the SEC crown all to itself at some point this weekend.


#FLax advances in NCAA Tournament

Perhaps the most important result of the weekend for Florida, however — yes, even though other Gators teams did things to get really big rings — was what the Gators lacrosse team did on Sunday in their first match of the 2018 NCAA Tournament.

You see, Florida went down 5-0 to Colorado in the first half of that second-round affair, and had to claw back for what was ultimately a 13-9 victory. And so the most ruinous possible result of the weekend was avoided.

Florida was coming off three straight years of failing to advance from second-round matches played in Gainesville, after all, and is moving on to the quarterfinals of the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2014.

The Gators’ postseason frustrations began in 2015, when a Northwestern team that the Gators had edged twice by a single goal in Evanston repaid the Gators — who crashed Northwestern’s American Lacrosse Conference as a new program and all but sideswiped the Wildcats’ dynasty — on their way out of the ALC by winning an overtime match in Gainesville in second-round play.

In 2016, Florida dropped a stunner to Penn State in its first NCAA Tournament match. In 2017, the Gators lost yet another NCAA Tournament match in Gainesville, this time to USC.

The inability to hold court on their home field had become a nagging narrative for the Gators, whose emergence as a national power in lacrosse nearly from the program’s birth had begun to be countered by a failure to make hay in NCAA play. Florida’s transition from competing in — and, eventually, coming to rule — the powerful ALC over its first few years of existence to completely dominating the lesser Big East over the last four seasons had also come to be seen as a reflection of the Gators’ paper tiger status, as Florida dropped just a single match (by a single goal) in Big East play from 2015 to 2018, but had just one NCAA Tournament win in that same span prior to Sunday.

Now, Florida has once more advanced from the first weekend of the NCAA Tournament, and will travel to James Madison this weekend for a match with a berth in the semifinal round on the line. And there will be more countering of narratives to be done in Virginia: Despite four quarterfinals trips prior to 2018, Florida has only advanced to the NCAA Tournament semifinals once in program history.


Men’s tennis to Sweet Sixteen, women’s tennis out early

Florida’s tennis teams enjoy very little coverage over the course of their seasons — which, frankly, makes a lot of sense, considering that they play entire non-NCAA fall schedules that only diehards pay any attention to, and that the way teams are playing when the NCAA Tournament rolls around means more than anything else.

And so it might come as a shock to some that the team of Gators advancing to the Sweet Sixteen of the NCAA Tournament last weekend was not Florida’s women, the defending national champions, but the Gators’ men.

Those Florida men cruised past South Carolina State and Miami in 4-0 routs on Saturday and Sunday to earn their third consecutive trip to the round of 16. Florida’s women, on the other hand, fell 4-3 to Florida State, dropping a second match to the Seminoles this year — Florida’s third loss to Florida State in women’s tennis ever — and bowing out of the NCAA Tournament with just a single win for the first time since

This was, as coach Roland Thornqvist put it, “heartbreaking” — especially since Florida’s insane 2017-18 campaign was conducted largely with just six scholarship players, two fewer than the customary eight, after freshman Ingrid Neal turned pro following the 2016-17 season, incoming recruit Jodie Burrage opted to go pro just prior to arriving in Gainesville for the fall semester, and senior Brooke Austin suffered a season-ending injury in December.

The Gators staggered out of the gates to a 3-4 start this spring, but battled hard throughout the year, following those first seven matches with four straight road triumphs — including one at Stanford — and ultimately making a run at the SEC title that would be won by Vanderbilt. With all six players pulling double duty in both doubles and singles in every match this year, Florida still posted a 19-9 record and held a top-10 ranking prior to last weekend’s exit.

And that exit, it should be noted, was hastened by a particularly untimely cramp for freshman McCartney Kessler — a transfer who didn’t even play in the fall — that forced her retirement at 1-1 in the third set of a match she was leading 7-6, 3-2 prior to cramping up.

Thornqvist — arguably Florida’s best coach in any sport — faulted himself for pushing the Gators in pre-Tournament training in comments after the match, but he also made sure to congratulate FSU and effusively praise the women who fought like hell for him and each other on the court all year, calling this team “wonderful,” “fantastic,” “incredible,” and “amazing.”

Florida’s men will probably not win a national title this year. Florida’s women certainly won’t. But while the men have already gone farther than the women will in postseason play, it’s hard to see a way that the men could possibly make fans prouder than the women did.


Men’s, women’s golf advance in NCAA play

And after all that, I may have saved the best for last.

Florida’s men’s and women’s golf teams are programs on the rise, with the Gators men charging thanks to the tireless recruiting and energetic coaching of J.C. Deacon and Florida’s women more steadily building toward being a power under Emily Glaser. And both teams are now in position to make runs at a national championship.

Glaser’s women earned that spot early last week, finishing tied for third at an NCAA Regional in Austin, Texas that was dominated by Arkansas and home-standing Texas. The Gators finished five-over for the three-round event, 26 shots behind the Razorbacks and 20 strokes back of the second-place Longhorns, but they were also a healthy nine shots ahead of the cut line, and thus advanced to this weekend’s NCAA Championships with plenty of room to spare.

Florida will arrive in Stillwater as an underdog to win it all, with a young team that largely has not been part of NCAA Championships play to date. But getting to the Championships for the fourth time in five years under Glaser is an indication that she has her program pointed in the right direction.

And the way Deacon’s charges went low in their own NCAA Regional this past weekend is an even better indicator of the Gators’ trajectory.

Florida scorched the Watson Course at Reunion Resort in Kissimmee from Monday to Wednesday, finishing an extraordinary 42-under for the week on the back of a program-record 17-under final round on Wednesday and scoring its first NCAA Regional victory since 2011 — the year of Buddy Alexander’s final SEC championship team. It was also a welcome change from a 2017 faceplant in Regional play, as a highly-touted Florida team failed to make the cut in a West Lafayette Regional thanks to a disastrous third round.

Their annihilation of the course in the final round only added to a substantial margin of victory for the Gators, who led wire-to-wire and ended up 12 strokes clear of runner-up UCF. Sophomore (and pro-to-be) Andy Zhang led the Gators with a 13-under performance that earned him medalist honors, but freshman Chris Nido shot a nine-under 63 on Wednesday — a school record for a freshman — to place second at 11-under, and fellow freshman John Axelsen finished tied for sixth at nine-under. And Junior Gordon Neale and senior Alejandro Tosti — who actually sits ahead of Zhang in the World Amateur Golf Ranking — finished just outside the top 25, tying for 26th at two-under.

That sort of scalding performance will certainly give Deacon and his players hope of continuing this run of form in Stillwater, Oklahoma for the NCAA Championships, where they will pursue their first national championship since 2001. And if Zhang and the rest of Florida’s youth movement play as precociously as they did in Kissimmee, Florida might go from dark horse to prime contender.


Running down the rankings

Finally, here’s the weekly compilation of Florida’s rankings for in-season teams, compiled by the Gators themselves:

This does not capture Florida’s SEC dominance over the weekend, as the Gators’ unprecedented choose-your-own-championship run of four SEC titles has little to do with their rankings in those sports.

You will also note that Florida’s softball team is credited here as the No. 4 team in the country, while the NCAA saw fit to install the Gators as the No. 2 seed in its tournament. Perhaps, just maybe, there is some West Coast bias going for the Pac-12 in the rankings, given that four of the top seven in the sport’s two major polls and the RPI are Pac-12 squads — and perhaps, just maybe, that bias should be checked against the Pac-12 failing to produce a single Women’s College World Series championship series participant since 2011.

What do I know, though?