Friday, February 23, 2018
Colleges

Variety of Florida Gators teams chase rankings, titles

GAINESVILLE — The Florida men's basketball team may be getting all the attention this week for being ranked No. 1, but Billy Donovan's squad isn't the only one to hold that distinction in Gainesville. And it's far from the only success story for the Gators this spring.

The undefeated softball team is also ranked No. 1 in the espn.com/USA Softball and NFCA/USA Today national polls.

Among the Gators' 14 sports currently in season, eight are ranked in the top 5: men's basketball and softball (both No. 1); gymnastics (No. 3); lacrosse (No. 5); men's swimming and diving (No. 4); women's swimming and diving (No. 5); women's tennis (No. 5); and men's track and field (No. 2).

The men's swimming and diving team won the SEC championship last weekend, its second straight title.

Gators track and field coach Mike Holloway isn't surprised by the success of the school's other programs because "that's what's expected." But the demand to be the best, he said, goes far beyond the regular season. That's what he's reminding his squads as they prepare for the SEC Championships this weekend in College Station, Texas.

"I think that anybody that works at the University of Florida, look at what's going on here now; whether it be basketball or softball, gymnastics, I think that's what we do," Holloway said.

"We prepare for these situations, and when you're hired you're not hired to be just good in the regular season, but you're hired to be good in championship season. That's our mantra and that's what we strive for every year.

"This team knows our job is to be ready for what we call the championship season."

Softball coach Tim Walton said that before the season, he guessed his team would be 15-1 at this juncture. The Gators (16-0) will play five games this weekend at the Diamond 9 Citrus Classic in Orlando, including a top-10 game against Oregon. Like Donovan, Walton doesn't want his team focused on the ranking.

"We don't look at our number in front of us, we've got to look at finding a way of how we're going to get better every day," Walton said. "Not even using coach cliche, but I think that's the mind-set of our team — not to really worry about where we're at right now, but to understand where we're going and how we're going to get there."

AT THE WIRE: The unranked women's basketball team has two regular-season games remaining, at Vanderbilt on Thursday, then hosting Texas A&M on Sunday. The Gators (17-10) need to boost their tournament resume. Florida, LSU and Vanderbilt sit in the middle of the SEC pack at 7-7. Assistant coach David Lowery said it's crunch time.

"It's very important (to finish strong),'' Lowery said. "Every game in the SEC counts. If you look at the standings, it's crazy right now. We've talked our kids about you've got to take one game at a time. … These last two games are very important. Right now you're playing for seeding in the SEC tournament, and hopefully life beyond the SEC and hopefully get in the NCAA Tournament. They're very important and our kids know that."

Antonya English can be reached at [email protected] Follow her on Twitter @TBTimes_Gators.

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