GAINESVILLE — Florida track coach Mike Holloway took advantage of a rare weekend off and attended the myriad sporting events on the Gators' campus last week. He caught a women's lacrosse game, some baseball, softball, gymnastics and women's basketball.
Florida won them all.
The weekend of winning led the veteran coach to the inspiration and wisdom he plans to impart on his team this week as it prepares for the SEC Indoor Championships in Fayetteville, Ark., beginning Friday: The excellence needs to be contagious.
"For me, my challenge to my student-athletes is for us to get caught up in the excitement of what's going on here," Holloway said. "We need to represent the university and the athletic association the way the other sports are representing."
It's not as if the track team isn't already striving for excellence, and the Gators are extra motivated by having finished second at the conference meet last season. But Holloway said he believes the winning atmosphere can have a cumulative effect.
"I don't know how you attend this university as a student-athlete or work here as a coach, how it doesn't affect you in some way," he said. "Watching the events this weekend, you get an incredible sense of pride about what's going on around here.
"A good friend of mine asked me why I'm so motivated. I said walk into one of our coaches' meetings and you see the great group of talent in the room and the people who are motivated in that room, and you can't help but be motivated yourself. I don't want to be the guy that's not getting the job done. So my motivation and my team's motivation is to put a product on the track, something that the Gator Nation will be proud of. And that's what we plan to do."
Still hoping: Having lost four of its past five games and its starting center to injury, the Gator women's basketball team seemed to have its season on the brink. But Florida rallied behind its seniors for a 65-57 win Sunday over then-No. 20 Georgia and enters this week still holding out hope for an NCAA Tournament berth. The Gators (14-13, 7-7 SEC) travel to No. 25 Vanderbilt on Thursday then close out the season at home against Alabama on Sunday before heading to the SEC Tournament. There has been no NCAA talk, but coach Amanda Butler said everyone knows what's at stake.
"I think for this team, our focus staying really small and narrow is best," Butler said. "We have a team with five seniors on it, so are they aware that there are implications in every win and loss? Absolutely. I don't think it's something that we as a coaching staff have to talk about that much. But we know an opportunity at Vandy would be a huge mark on our resume if we can do this. … But we're going to talk about how we can beat Vandy and put all our energy into that. The only thing we can control is who we beat and who we play next."
Swimming honors: Swimming coach Gregg Troy and diving coach Donnie Craig were named SEC coaches of the year this past weekend, but the honors were bittersweet because the men's and women's teams both earned second-place finishes at the SEC meet and brought home a combined 14 SEC and 18 NCAA automatic qualifying races. The Gators also broke two SEC and six school records. "Everyone is in the same dynamic here at Florida; second just doesn't get it," Troy said. "That being said, we certainly aren't happy being second, but both teams competed extremely well. We clawed and scratched through the whole meet."
Antonya English can be reached at email@example.com.