WRUF Profiles

Florida Gymnastics Looks to Defend Title

By on April 14th, 2014

          The top-ranked, defending national champion Florida Gator gymnastics team has now embarked on their postseason competition after an impressive regular season. So far this year, multiple University of Florida records have been broken, and UF’s athletes are ranked among the best in the nation. Additionally, in eight out of the ten weeks of the regular season, a Florida gymnast has been named SEC gymnast of the week, and the Gators have been ranked in the nation’s top three teams for the entire season.

The Gators ended their regular season as the No. 1 team in the nation with only one loss to Alabama. They came in second at the SEC Championships in Birmingham, Ala. on March 22 after leading the competition for the first three rounds and coming up just short of Alabama’s 197.875 with a score of 197.70.

According to Gatorzone.com, it was announced March 24 that the Gators will travel to Penn State University for NCAA regional competition in University Park, Penn. on April 5. It is there that the Gators will begin defending their national title and will be competing against No. 12 Oregon State, No. 15 Penn State, No. 23 New Hampshire, No. 29 Kentucky and No. 36 Maryland. The top two teams from the regional meet will advance to the 2014 NCAA Championships in Birmingham April 18-20.

Florida junior All-American Kytra Hunter said she doesn’t typically like to look too far ahead, but she wants her team to be back-to-back national champions.

“Whatever I have to do and whatever I can do, I’m gonna do that for the team,”  she said.

Hunter, who is the No. 7 gymnast in the NCAA, has certainly contributed to the Gators success this year. She is currently in the midst of making UF history. She has collected six perfect scores this season: four on the floor exercise and two on vault. She now has more perfect 10’s than any other Florida gymnast in a season and more than anyone at UF has ever had in their collegiate career. Her total 10.0’s for floor matches the record for perfect 10’s in one event, Susan Hines earned four on the vault in 1996 and 1998. However, Hunter holds the record for the most perfect scores in an event in a single season, as Hines earned three of hers in ‘98 and one in ‘96, according to Gatorzone.

Hunter has said all season that her goal is ten 10’s. She still has regionals, and likely nationals, to achieve her goal. Although it may seem that Hunter has perfected her craft, she still knows she cannot become complacent and must still work to improve.

“I’m a really humble person,” she said. “I know that no matter what the scores are, there’s always room for improvement so that’s what I try to do every day.”

Hunter is not the only one breaking school records this season. Sophomore All-American Bridget Sloan matched the highest all-around total in UF history at Missouri on March 14. The record score of 39.825 was set only the week before by Florida senior All-American Alaina Johnson. It is also the highest all-around total in the country for the 2014 season, according to Gatorzone.com.

As of the SEC Championships, Sloan has won nine consecutive all-around titles, approaching the UF record of 11 by Melissa Miller in 1988. She has also accumulated 27 event titles so far in 2014 and has been SEC Gymnast of the Week six times.

According to the national GymInfo rankings, she is the No. 1-ranked gymnast in the nation and did not receive a score less than 9.90 in more than half of the regular season meets.

Sloan’s success has carried over into the postseason. At the SEC Championship in Birmingham, she took the all-around title and matched her six-time collegiate best on vault of 9.95, according to Gatorzone.com.

Those consistent high scores will certainly help her team reach their goals in the regional and national meets, and Sloan said she has been looking forward to competing in the upcoming competitions.

“Postseason is so incredible,” she said. “It was a blast last year and I have very high expectations for this year.”

The Gators have significant depth in talent in their roster. Senior All-American Mackenzie Caquatto has scored above 9.90 on the balance beam and the uneven bars in the last four meets of the regular season. She is ranked 2nd nationally on beam and 6th on bars, according to the national GymInfo rankings.

Senior All-American Alaina Johnson has been gaining momentum over the course of the season. On her senior night, March 7, at the Gators’ home meet against West Virginia, she broke UF record for the all-time highest all-around score with a 39.825. She now shares the record with teammate Bridget Sloan, and it is the highest score of 2014 in the country.

Johnson is currently tied with LSU’s Sarie Morrison as the 9th-ranked gymnast in the country.

Junior Rachel Spicer is another contributing factor of the Gators’ success. She competes on the vault, balance beam and floor exercise and has broken her collegiate-best record scores in all three events in 2014.

Spicer said she excited for postseason and has been working hard in the gym at practice to prepare.

“Practice hasn’t really changed, as in the assignments and things like that,” she said. “I would say it’s more focused on details like being sharp and showing off dance on floor and definitely the landings on vault and bars is very important.”

Head Coach Rhonda Faehn said her game plan going forward is simple: doing what they’ve been doing all year long, not holding back, competing aggressively and just having fun.

The Gators have demonstrated their ability to be top contenders on the national stage. Even though they are hopeful for another national title, Bridget Sloan knows that no matter what, their work has not been in vain.

“Whatever happens, I just hope that we can look back on this whole year and realize that we came closer together as a team, that we became stronger individuals and stronger gymnasts inside and outside of the gym and just realize that everything happens for a reason,” Sloan said. “Whether things go our way or not, we’ll be able to look back on this season and realize: There were good things that came out of it.”

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UF Men’s Tennis Looks to Closeout Season Strong

By on April 14th, 2014

Mike Alford

After an inconsistent start to the season, the Florida Men’s tennis team is starting find their stroke. The Gators had a very tough schedule to open the season, including non-conference games against three of the top five teams in the nation. They also split their first four SEC matches with wins against South Carolina and Tennessee and losses against 12th ranked Texas A&M and 10thranked Georgia.

The team rebounded with back-to-back sweeps against Auburn and Alabama, and is growing in confidence. Senior Michael Alford says, “We’re going to come out every match and no matter what the rankings are, we’re going to give it our best. We truly believe we can win every match.”

Alford added, “We don’t think that there’s any team that is leaps and bounds better than us. We think we’re in every single match and we see that in the last couple of matches we’ve played. (We) haven’t given in and it’s fun to be playing with a group of guys who have that attitude.”

On a team that features six underclassmen on a ten-man roster, Alford knows the younger players look up to him. “Being one of the only seniors, I do consider myself one of the leaders. Not really as vocal of a leader but I show up to practice every day and just work as hard as I can; so I guess leading by example is the way I try and do things and just give it 100% all the time,” said Alford.

One of those younger players is freshman Elliot Orkin, who was ranked as high as the third best player coming out of high school. Orkin says, “Mike has been a leader to me in many ways. He’s a hard worker and he’s always competing so that’s something I look up to.”

Elliot Orkin

According to Orkin, the goal of this team has been crystal clear since the moment he joined. “Our goal is to win the SEC championship, that’s what coach has been preaching to us since the beginning,” said Orkin, “That remains our goal so we’re going to have to do really well for the rest of the season to achieve that.”

The youth on this Gators team is hardly a disadvantage. Alford says, “We feel like we’re playing some good tennis collectively. Everyone’s playing well. Our goal is to come in every day and get better – and obviously when matches come we want to show up prepared, show up excited and hopefully get the job done.”

Alford and the rest of the Gators will be continuing conference play up until April 16th when they journey on to the SEC tournament in Nashville.

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Bryan Shelton: Always Striving for Greatness

By on April 14th, 2014

As a formerly world-ranked tennis player and collegiate All-American, Gator men’s tennis head coach Bryan Shelton is no stranger to success.

The Hunstville, Alabama native earned an industrial engineering degree from Georgia Tech. If that isn’t impressive enough, Shelton also lettered in tennis for the Yellow Jackets, winning both the ACC Singles Championship as well as the US Amateur Championship in 1985.

During Shelton’s decade-long professional career, he reached an all-time high singles ranking of 55 and doubles ranking of 52 in the world.

“I had some wins over top ten players like Andre Agassi and others, so I had a good professional career,” he said.

When he retired from the professional tour, Shelton began coaching for the United States Tennis Association, where he worked with players like Andy Roddick and Mardy Fish. He said he knew he “wanted to do something different,” and collegiate coaching was the path he chose to take.

“I felt like it was something I could do to impact others, especially others that are between the ages of 19 and 22,” he said.

Shelton began coaching the women’s team at his alma mater in 1999. Under his leadership, the women won multiple conference titles as well as a national title in 2007.

In 2012, Shelton began coaching the Gator men’s tennis team. He says he knew the University of Florida was the right choice for him because of the integrity of the programs.

“To be able to switch over from women’s side to the men’s side is a unique opportunity that most people don’t get; to do it here at the University of Florida where excellence is the norm, I wanted to be part of something like that. And like they say it’s great to be a Florida Gator,” he said.

The men never have an easy season, facing a majority of ranked opponents. He said they have had some success early on, but they have also taken their lumps. His goal is to make sure that every day they are working hard and improving. Shelton’s coaching philosophy is just as much about shaping the players as it is about shaping their game.

“I’m really working with the guys to help them develop as people. I really want the program to be one that people look at and say they do things with integrity,” he said.

Overall, Shelton is pleased with what this young team has accomplished so far in the season. The goal for this season is to win the conference championship, and Shelton likes the way the men are working.

“So that’s something we are striving for; we know between now and then there’s going to be some adversity, there are going to be some storms, but we have to weather the storms and embrace them when they come and face the adversity and continue to work and do the things that we know will lead us to success.”

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Baseball’s Ryan Harris Expecting This Season To Be A Good Run

By on April 14th, 2014

Ryan Harris can recall his love for the game and throwing a baseball in the front yard with his father, since age four.

The University of Florida junior expressed that his dad, Scott Harris, got him into baseball and is a big advocate of the game.

“Without a doubt, he’s always been there by my side, always been there to coach me and help me out, take me to all my games, he’s been a big aspect in my life,” said Harris.

The right-handed pitcher was born and raised in Jupiter, Florida and played for Jupiter High School before accepting his offer to play for the University of Florida. Ryan said his decision to become a Gator was fairly easy.

“I chose the University of Florida because of the coaches. The coaches, the program we have here and obviously the education is really great.” Ryan also said Gator Baseball Head Coach Kevin O’Sullivan has greatly impacting his baseball abilities.

“Coach has taught me a lot about the game that I wouldn’t have figured out from anybody else. He teaches us the mental aspect of the game and how to be mentally tough, along with the fundamentals. It’s all about mental toughness,” Harris said.

Ryan reminisced about one of his most memorable games at University of Florida so far. “My freshman year against Florida State, I threw three perfect innings against them and they were ranked number one in the country for that week, that was my first collegiate win.”

After Harris’ first regular season with the Gators as a freshman, they advanced to the 2012 College World Series in Omaha, Nebraska. Although the Gators lost their first two games against South Carolina and Kent State, Harris said the experience was unbelievable and one of his most memorable accomplishments he’s had with the team.

Gator Baseball ended their 2013 season with a record of 29-30 but Harris believes everyone should expect a big turn around this year.

“This season everyone’s back and healthy, the team gels really well and we have a lot of new young freshmen coming in that are going to be good. I think were gonna have a really good team and are gonna give it a good run,” said Harris.

Ryan Harris plans on hopefully pursuing a career in baseball once he graduates from the University of Florida.

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GHS, Adam Souillard: Developing good players on and off of the field

By on April 14th, 2014

For Hurricane head coach Adam Souillard, coaching baseball at Gainesville High School (GHS) is more than just a position. It is an opportunity to share the game he loves with others.

As a Miami native, Souillard’s passion for sports began in his childhood when he would play sports with his mother.  After five years of soccer, he discovered baseball and has been in love ever since.

“She [Souillard’s mother] was always the one outside with me. She would be the one racing me and all that stuff. And I actually played soccer for the first five years I started playing organized sports and then I got into baseball. Once I started doing that, it was kind of a love for it.

After playing baseball in grade school, Souillard discovered the contribution that he wanted to make to the game.

“I knew I wanted to coach it [baseball] very early in my life because it was a great game and it was a lot of fun for me and I wanted to be able to teach others to play this game”

While studying at the University of Florida, Souillard found his first coaching opportunity while volunteering at local high schools to fulfill a requirement for a physical education course. After getting involved with Santa Fe High School Baseball, as a volunteer, he retained a coaching position before getting an offer at GHS.

As an experienced coach, he is well aware of the obstacles that many high school coaches face, not having the luxury of player recruitment. Souillard said that despite the challenging seasons when his team has a limited number of experienced seniors, he welcomes the opportunity to develop new players.

“I love teaching this game. Actually, I like this team a lot that I have for 2014 because I get to do a lot more teaching. I get to see them grow from what they were when they first started.”

Souillard’s focus on player development extends past their physical abilities. He also strives to use his program to instill good character into his team.

“Yea, it’s great to be good baseball players but I want them to be good people and a quality individual. Everyone loves to win. Everyone hates to lose. But at the end of the day the game is going to be there when I’m gone. The game is going to be there when they’re gone. But when they leave here, I hope that they are good people as well as good baseball players.”

Ultimately, Souillard is looking forward to having a long career in baseball. He loves his current position but he is open to other opportunities that may come in the future. 

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Jennifer Rocha: University of Florida Softball Assistant Coach

By on April 8th, 2014

Jennifer Rocha wasn’t aiming to be a coach. She played for the University of Oklahoma softball team for three years, before working for her Masters in Human Relations. She stayed on the team’s staff as a graduate assistant and then her career path took an unexpected turn.
“After I finished my Masters degree, at the end of the day my resumes for softball were being taken a lot better than my resume for any sort of social work so I got my first job at the University of Oregon,” says Rocha.

Before heading to Oregon, Rocha made a very important connection to Oklahoma Assistant Coach Tim Walton. Rocha worked for Walton on the Sooners staff for three years before he invited her to work with him at Wichita State University.
“When he got a head coaching job he asked me to come be his pitching coach, and it was an easy decision to go work with him,” says Rocha.
Fast forward 11 years and Rocha and Walton continue to work together.
“He knows what I’m going to do. He knows what pitches I’m going to call. He knows my work ethic. We can talk to each other with just one look now,” says Rocha.
The trust and bond Rocha has built with Walton is reflected by the trust she builds year after year with her players. The trust, says Rocha, is what leads to team success.
“I’m calling the pitches from the dugout and so I have a lot of trust in my catcher and in my pitcher. But when I call a pitch, I want them to be 100% behind that pitch. They always have the ability to say ‘no I don’t want to throw that pitch’, and I trust they are making a good quality decision,” says Rocha.
The trust philosophy has clearly worked for Rocha. Going into her ninth year in Gainesville Rocha has tutored four All American pitchers, and coached the Gators to the top team earned run average in the country twice.
This year Rocha continues to tutor Gators ace Hannah Rodgers. The senior righty is a three-time All-American, and has won over 100 career games.
“I think some of my proudest moments are just seeing our pitchers excel. Those things excite me when we see them be successful. We can work on something at practice, and when you see them execute it in the game – that fires me up. That gets me excited,” says Rocha.
Rocha says she only focuses on the next game, but a championship is her expectation for this season.

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Campbell’s career meets passion

By on April 8th, 2014

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Florida’s Associate Head Soccer Coach Victor Campbell has always had a passion for sports. However, he never saw himself pursuing a coaching career, especially in soccer.

Khamisha Remikie / WRUF

In his younger years, Campbell participated in football, basketball, tennis and baseball. He did not begin to play the game of soccer until the age of 18. Campbell does not believe his late start in the sport hindered his success in any way; in fact he believes it was beneficial for him. Campbell said, “learning at a late age, only provided that hunger. Sometimes being a late bloomer, allows you to achieve things later on in life because you have the hunger for it.”

Campbell attended Methodist College where he received a degree in Business Administration. He then served as a Certified Public Accountant for six years. Campbell realized that career was not best for him and decided to begin his coaching career.“I always grew up involved in sports. That’s all I kinda knew. I enjoyed playing sports. I didn’t realize once you got older and got a job, that would all end,” said Campbell. He desired to return to the thing he knew best, which was sports.

After seven years of assisting with soccer at Methodist College, Campbell continue his coaching career by becoming an assistant coach for the University of Florida’s soccer team. Campbell is extremely happy to be coaching at UF and is grateful for such a great opportunity. Campbell said, “to have a career here at the University of Florida as a coach is amazing.”

Campbell has had the honor to work with the Gators for 19 seasons. During his time at Florida, he has created many memories. Campbell said, “my most memorable moment would be the ‘98 season. Not so much the championship game, but that ‘98 season was pretty special.”

Campbell is looking forward to a great season for the upcoming year. He believes, as a coach, he plays a major role for the team to maximize their potential and have a great season. “The players has to know that the coach cares about them more as person, than a player if you want the best out of them.”

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Coach Michelle Tumolo: Young But Experienced

By on April 3rd, 2014

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For many student athletes, their time on the field ends after graduation. But for University of Florida Lacrosse Assistant Coach, Michelle Tumolo, lacrosse is just as big a part of her life now as it was when she played as a student at Syracuse University.

Tumolo played attack during her time for the Orange. She finished her college career ranked third in all-time scoring with 278 points, second in career assists with 137 and fifth in all-time goals with 141, according to GatorZone.com. She is also a 2012 Tewaaraton Trophy Finalist, which is an award given annually to the most outstanding college lacrosse player.

Tumolo graduated from Syracuse in 2013. She was hired as Florida’s newest assistant lacrosse coach in fall 2013. Overall, Tumolo had a smooth transition from player to coach.

“It’s hard if like someone is doing something wrong, you can’t exactly do it for them. So I think that’s the biggest difference. But other than that it’s a great experience. I’m so lucky to still be able to be a part of the sport even though I’ve graduated and can’t play anymore,” said Tumolo.

But coaching isn’t new territory for Tumolo. She was a coach for the South Jersey Devils Lacrosse Club in 2010. She also coached Syracuse’s Elite Lacrosse Camp from 2010 to 2013. Tumolo’s experience as the Syracuse lacrosse team captain her sophomore, junior and senior year helped her prepare for her job too.

“When your peers respect your, it makes it that much easier. And I think that being on the team at Syracuse, I had respect there. And now being a coach here, they respect me,” Tumolo said.

The 22-year-old has only been playing lacrosse for eight years. And even though she’s the same age as some of the players on the Gators lacrosse team, she still has a lot of experience to share.

“Now that I’ve played and I’ve had that energy, I can give it to my team now—My young and fun energy and the confidence that they need,” said Tumolo, “I know what it’s like to go through just building confidence. So if I player needs that I really look at them and you can come to me for any of that insight. The hard part for me is that they’re my age, basically. So it’s hard to have to have authority with them but at the same time they respect me, so it doesn’t make my job harder.”

Tumolo’s goal for her first season as assistant coach is to win as many games as possible. She does not want to the Gators to suffer another loss like the team’s defeat to University of North Carolina in the first game of the 2014 season.

“I hope that we stay strong. And then when we go into the tournament, I hope we come out with a victory, you know, ALC champs. That would be a big goal. But each game is a goal for us, and for me personally, keeping that win streak going, because that first game was a little tough,” said Tumolo.

Tumolo plans to continue her coaching career. She hopes to become a head coach one day.

Colette DuChanois / ESPN 850 WRUF

University of Florida Lacrosse Assistant Coach Michelle Tumolo

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Liz Slattery shines in her freshman season for the Gators

By on March 27th, 2014

If Gators freshman mid-fielder, Liz Slattery, kicks the seams off the soccer ball like she did in high school, her college career could be fantastic.

Kan Li / Alligator Staff

Liz Slattery battles for the ball during Florida’s 3-0 victory against Auburn

Originally from Cincinnati, Ohio, she attended Indian Hill High School, but it wasn’t until the University of Florida reached out to her that she became interested in the school.

“I had actually never even considered the state of Florida or even the school until they reached out to me for soccer and I came down and visited and absolutely loved it!” Slattery said.

Slattery finished her high school career with 66 goals and 36 assists, but putting up those numbers weren’t her biggest high school achievement.

“I would say my biggest accomplishment was being named an NSCAA High School All-American two times, my junior and senior year.”

These weren’t her only awards, she also won Player of the Year in 2011 and 2012 by the Southwest Ohio Scholastic Soccer Coaches Association Girls Division II, ESPN High School fall girls soccer all-star selection in 2011, and was the recipient of the 2013 Indian Hill H.S.’s Outstanding Female Athlete Award.

In her first season as a Gator, Slattery, appeared in all but one match and started one at holding midfield. She recorded two goals and one assist. Her first collegiate goal came off a beautiful header in a 3-0 victory over Alabama on September 20th.

Soccer never stops for the Cincinnati native even during the offseason.

“During the offseason, I play for my club team back home in Ohio and then I train with a personal trainer to work on lifting, agility, speed work stuff to try and get me as fit and as cut as possible.”

The Gators mid-fielder has the freshmen jitters out of her system after completing her first season so now she can look forward to achieving new goals next season.

“Individually, I would like to start and get a lot of minutes on the field and I want to be a big contributor to our team and the way we play this year” said Slattery, “As far as our team, I want to win the SEC, a National Championship, and I hope that we can be more united as a team than we were last year.”

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Spencer Newman: Best of Both Worlds

By on March 19th, 2014


Senior Spencer Newman is happy to be back where it all began.

Newman enrolled at the University of Florida in 2011 as a five star tennis recruit hoping to make an immediate impact on the team.

“I’m from Florida and I didn’t really see myself representing any other schools,” said Newman, “The program here is unbelievable and I had known most of the team since I was 9 years old.”

Newman was battling injuries for most of his freshman season, but that did not stop him from posting strong numbers for the Gators.

He finished the season 11-8 in singles play and 1-0 in doubles, earning SEC Freshman of the Week honors on March 30, 2011.

Despite having such strong ties with the team, Newman made the decision to transfer to Michigan in Fall 2012.

“I felt like I wasn’t getting a fair opportunity to play higher in the lineup here,” Newman said. “Plus, I really wanted to play for Mark Merklein.”

Merklein is a former All-American at UF and was an assistant coach at Michigan at the time.

Newman ‘s time with Michigan was short-lived. He only competed in two tournaments for the Wolverines before his body started breaking down. His short stint with Michigan all but ended when he tore his labrum competing for the Wolverines.

He was still battling injuries from his time at Florida.

Newman never fully recovered from a tibial plateau fracture in his right leg.

To top it all off, he was still recovering from a stress fracture in his right wrist – his strong hand.

Newman transferred back to Florida the next semester, but was forced to sit out the season per NCAA regulations.

The mandatory time off was a blessing in disguise for Spencer. He was able to put all his focus into getting healthy. He wanted to return a better, healthier player.

A year has passed. Spencer Newman has high expectations for this year.

Things are looking different this time around. Mark Merklein has since returned to Florida as an assistant coach. Newman feels better than he ever has before.

“I expect our team to do really well this season. This is the deepest team I’ve ever been on. We all can get the job done on the court on any given day,” Newman said.

Newman remembers where he was as a freshman a few years ago. He plans to make the most of his second opportunity in Gainesville.

“I get to play for the program I always wanted to play for, and I get to play for the coach I wanted to play for,” Newman said with a smile on his face. “What more can I ask for? I’m getting the best of both worlds.”

Spencer Newman and the Gators continue their season with one thing on their mind: an SEC championship.



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