Updated: Apr 17
Honoring the iconic moments around the Florida Gators program that has set the Gator Standard.
BY KASSIDY HILL
The Florida Gators like to use the term “Everything School.” In the seven year history of the Capital One Cup, honoring the best all sports athletic program in the country, the Gators have won three cups (two for mens sports, one for women’s). So while football and basketball pay the bills, there are countless other sports/athletes/moments that contribute to the Florida Gators winning reputation…and massive presence in the Olympics.
BASEBALL SWEEPS LSU FOR THE TITLE
The Gators baseball team and Kevin O’Sullivan have consistently had some of the best teams in the country, so it’s somewhat shocking that it wasn’t until 2017 that they won a National Championship. The stocked teams in 2012 and 2015 feasibly had better chances. But that 2017 squad was a group of destiny.
After tying with LSU as SEC Champions, the Gators kicked off their regional runs. Alex Faedo—an hour after being taken as a 1st round pick by the Detroit Tigers—came out as the closer and struck out three to send the Gators back to the College World Series.
It was the stand in Omaha though that became stuff of legend. After advancing to the final round, UF was faced yet again with their SEC foe, LSU. In Game 2, with a Game 1 win under their belt, Florida carried a 2-0 lead into the seventh inning when the Tigers trimmed it to 2-1. From Nebraska, here’s how FloridaGators.com writer Scott Carter described what followed:
"The Gators led 2-0 in the seventh when LSU's Zach Watson led off with a single. Exit UF starter Tyler Dyson, and enter closer Michael Byrne. Josh Smith greeted Byrne with an RBI double to trim the lead to 2-1 and put the tying run on second base. Jake Slaughter followed with a single to put runners on first and third. Up stepped Michael Papierski, who grounded into a 4-6-3 double play as Smith crossed the plate with the tying run. Not so fast. Umpires ruled that Slaughter's slide interfered with UF shortstop Dalton Guthrie at second base. Per NCAA rules, a runner cannot advance on an interference play, resulting in Smith having to stay at third. Byrne then retired Beau Jordan on a fly ball to center field and the Gators escaped the inning with a one-run lead.”
Florida added four runs to their padding, so when the scoreboard showed two outs, there might not have been a lot of worry in the park of mostly LSU fans and handful of Gator fans. Second baseman Deacon Liput fielded a ground ball, threw to first baseman JJ Schwarz for the easy out and then it was all over but the dogpile.
There are legions of talented athletes that have come through University of Florida. But there’s something special about an Olympian. Even if they don’t medal in the world games (although Florida has had many of those), just reaching that point means they already beat out thousands others. The past decade, UF has seen numerous former Gators represent their country and coaches Gregg Troy (Swimming and Diving) and Mike Holloway (Track and Field) head up the USA teams in their respective fields. But two guys specifically have torn up the record books.
HOLLOWAY: THE FASTEST GATOR ON LAND
Grant Holloway dominated while at Florida. He won three straight Indoor and Outdoor NCAA Championships in the 60 meter hurdle, two championships in the 110 meter hurdle (2017 & 2019) and is the current NCAA record holder in both of those events, as well as the 4x100 meter relay; and his NCAA record for the 60 meter hurdle is also an American record, in case that wasn’t enough.
But Holloway had his sights set on something even bigger. In October 2019, after having two months in which he admits “I just ran like sh*t,” Holloway went up against the reigning Olympic and World Champion in the 110 meter hurdle. He finished in 13.10 seconds, capturing the world title as an underdog. With the American flag around his shoulders, he gave an impassioned winning speech, finishing it with a gator chomp.
DRESSEL: THE FASTEST GATOR IN THE WATER
Caleb Dressel is coming for Michael Phelps’ crown as the United States best swimmer, and he’ll jet away so fast that no one will be able to stop him. In the 2016 Rio summer Olympics, Dressel—along with Phelps, Nathan Adrian and former Gator Ryan Lochte—earned a gold medal in the 4x100-meter freestyle relay. Then he began collecting medals and records faster than they could be created, often breaking records held by Dressel himself.
In 2016, he broke the American record for the 50 and 100-yard freestyle. In 2017, at the NCAA Championship, he broke the 100-yard butterfly and freestyle records, while tying his 50-yard freestyle record setting time.
At the 2017 World Championships, he won seven gold medals—becoming only the second male swimmer, behind Michael Phelps, to do so—while also setting the American record for the 50 meter butterfly, the split time in the 4x100 meter freestyle relay, the 50 meter freestyle, the 100 meter butterfly and he reset his 100-meter freestyle record for good measure. At the same event in 2019, Dressel won six gold medals. He went ahead and set an American record in the 100 meter freestyle, broke Michael Phelps world record in the 100 meter butterfly and helped the 4x100 relay team set a new world record time while he was at it.
Yet it’s 2018 for which Dressel will live in Florida Gators lore. Swimming in his orange and blue cap for his final collegiate year, Dressel won all three of his races and a relay national title. He broke the American record in the 50 yard freestyle…three times, in the same day. Then he sat a new American record in the 100 yard butterfly, because why not.
Dressel was asked how he pulled off the feat at the 2018 championship and gave the best answer possible:
“I wish I had answers,” Dressel said. “A good quote I’ve learned over the years is, ‘I don’t know.’ I really don’t. I just try to do what I’m told.”
Both men were expected to be huge contenders at this years summer Olympics in Tokyo. They will not continue to train as COVID-19 has forced the Olympics to be rescheduled for summer 2021.
BACK TO BACK SOFTBALL CHAMPIONSHIPS Much like the baseball program, the continued dominance of the Gators softball program under Tim Walton makes it seem like every year can potentially be a National Championship year. That's the mood you want with your teams, but still, it wasn't until 2014 that the Gators won their first Women's College World Series.
Taking the title meant defeating SEC foe Alabama—who had won the title two years prior—and facing off against Jackie Traina, one of the nation's best pitchers. But Walton's squad had faced her before and after winning Game 1 against the Tide, they felt they had her figured out. And they were right. In Game 2, Traina gave up five runs in 1 1/3 innings before being pulled. The Gators dominance with the bats also was an unlikely source to justify one of Walton's gutsiest decisions. After pitcher Hannah George had led the way much of the season and in postseason, Walton elected to sit her for Game 2 and start Lauren Haeger instead. He wanted to rest his ace in case a Game 3 was necessary. The decision paid off and Rogers—named the series MVP—was able to come in during the 6th inning with a lead to nab the save as Florida won it's first National Championship.
A year later, the Gators were back in Oklahoma City and boasting an even better record than the year before. This time, they were forced into a Game 3 by the Michigan Wolverines. Haeger was back though and dueling as the USA Softball Player of the Year. She pitched seven innings, giving up five hits and only a run while striking out five. She was the Gators best slugger at the plate as well. With yellow flowers in their hair for their friend Heather Braswell—the 12-year old who was taken from them by cancer—the Gators honored her legacy and defeated Michigan 4-1 in Game 3 for a back-to-back title.