WRUF Profiles

Antoinette Bannister takes shots through Adversity

By on March 19th, 2014

University of Florida Women’s Basketball shooting guard, Antoinette Bannister has been no stranger to adversity, but her commitment to her loved ones and ultimately the game has been the fuel she has needed for her dedication and growth.

For Bannister, the game of basketball is in her blood. As a native of Jacksonville, Florida, Bannister spent her entire pre-collegiate career as a member of her father’s team who also coached both of her brothers. Despite the talent that Bannister may have inherited from her athletic family background, she admitted that having her father double as her basketball coach forced her to develop a strong work ethic early in life.

“I felt like he was being unfair because he would make me work extra hard. He would push me more than anyone else just so people would always say ‘Oh, he’s showing favoritism,’ –my dad never ever showed favoritism. I had to earn my playing time with him. I wasn’t always a starter. I started being in his starting line-up when I was like 15 or 16. I had to earn my way up there. It didn’t just come.”

Bannister’s hard work and commitment to improvement was evident in her impressive high school career. According to GatorZone.com, Bannister set Florida’s all-time prep scoring record with 4,758 points, ending her final game of the season with 45 points, 14 rebounds, and 8 steals against IMG Academy.

Her all-star high school career earned her a spot with her “dream school,” the University of North Carolina Tar Heels. However, after coming home for Winter break after the Fall during her freshman year, Bannister learned that her mother had been diagnosed with a serious illness and would have to undergo surgery.

After learning of her mother’s physical condition, she returned to UNC with uncertainty to play one last game with the Tar Heels against Clemson. However, her concern for her mother ultimately led her to seek a position with the University of Florida.

“I was able to leave there on a good note. I miss being there, I really do. I miss the team, I miss the coaches. I had no problem with North Carolina, they were my dream school but when stuff popped up with my mom, I really felt like I had to be closer to her.”

Following her transfer, Bannister had to sit out for the remainder of the season before she could gain NCAA eligibility. Still, after months of hard preparation for her sophomore season, adversity struck again. Bannister injured her arm against Florida State and had to sit out for another 12 games. Bannister did not give in to the unfortunate circumstance but dedicated the power she had to getting better in the areas she could affect.

“Having to sit and just watch was really, really difficult but I got in better shape. I worked on a lot of stuff like shooting, getting to the basket more, and just working on my off game so when I came back, I was able to help the team.”

Bannister has not let any of her obstacles block her drive or positive attitude.

“I feel like having that injury really made me become a more patient person. It really made me realize the thing you love can be taken away from you at any moment and you just can’t take it for granted.”

Bannister has already accomplished and overcome more than most on and off the court but she no signs of stopping or slowing down. She has a long collegiate and possibly professional career ahead of her where fans will be able to witness, firsthand, the product of Bannister’s dedication and resilience in the face of difficulty.

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Ciarra Brewer is jumping into the spotlight

By on March 19th, 2014


For most four-year-olds, life can be pretty simple. A normal day can consist of coloring, learning the alphabet, and riding a tricycle. But don’t jump to conclusions about the preschool activities of University of Florida triple-jumper Ciarra Brewer.

At the age of four, Ciarra was running track.

“I’ve been running track for a LONG time,” joked Brewer.

Growing up in Union City, California, track and field was a way of life for the Brewer family.

Her father was a track and field coach at Berkeley High and led the school to seven California State championships through the seventies and eighties. Her mother was a high-jumper for the University of Colorado.

Her brother, Arneax, was a two-time California state finalist in the triple jump as well.

“Being in a jumper’s family, I know it’s something we are all passionate about and we can all relate to,” she added.

Few athletes can relate to what Brewer has done in track cleats. She was the nation’s top-ranked girls triple-jumper coming out of high school.

Among a mountain of accomplishments, she is the reigning two-time defending SEC outdoor triple jump champion, claiming the top spot back to back years in 2012 and 2013 with marks of 13.58 meters and 13.85 meters respectively.

At the 2014 Razorback Invitational in Fayetteville, Brewer became the national leader in the triple jump with a mark of 13.55 meters.

Despite a plethora of individual achievements, Brewer considers her crowing achievement as a Gator to be finishing second-place as a freshman at the 2012 SEC Indoor Championships in Kentucky where the women’s team captured its seventh SEC indoor title.

“People didn’t think that we would’ve won,” said Brewer. The No. 6 ranked Florida women’s team won the title by upsetting No. 2 LSU and No. 4 Arkansas.

When Brewer thinks about this year’s team, she gets the same vibes when reminiscing of that 2012 championship team.

“I feel like we having a really good chance of winning and I hope we all come together the same way we did in Kentucky.”

UPDATE: At the 2014 SEC Indoor Track & Field Championships in College Station, Texas, the UF women’s team came together to become the 2014 SEC Indoor Champions, beating second-place Texas A&M by 5.5 points.

Brewer’s jump of 13.59 meters put her as the 2014 SEC Indoor Triple Jump champion.

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Marquis Dendy: A Gifted Athlete

By on March 19th, 2014

University of Florida junior long jumper and triple jumper Marquis Dendy jumped just over 27 feet, but he fell three inches short of a new car.

Setting a world record in the men’s long jump was not enough for Marquis Dendy. Although Dendy’s record-breaking mark crowned him champion of the 2013 SEC Indoors, it was not quite enough to win a bet he made with his dad.

Marquis Dendy at the Razorback Invitational. Photo courtesy of Wesley Hitt.

Dendy reflects on the conversation he had with his dad, “So I said, ‘Ok look, how about this. If I make up those three inches in triple [jump] will you get me the car anyway?’”

Dendy’s parents began car shopping immediately.

Dendy says, “If I break [personal records] or break records then I get a little something from my parents. It’s just all fun.”

If that’s the case then Dendy is going to be walking away with a few gifts from his parents. As a freshman Dendy made it to the US Olympic Trials, but fouled out in the finals. Dendy, a computer software engineer major, says he is aiming for the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

“I just really want to be an Olympic gold medalist. Representing my country with a gold medal- that’s my number one goal. In the long and triple jump.”

Although Dendy has his sights set on Rio, he realizes he needs to focus on what he can control now, because he knows his career in track and field will not last forever.

“I want to just take down a lot of records, long and triple jump, and just basically come out, more importantly, with a degree. If you have a piece of paper that says University of Florida computer software engineering degree it’s going to take me way farther, especially when I settle down outside of track and field,” says Dendy.

A Delaware native, Dendy was attracted to UF not just for its warm weather, but also for the talents of the track and field coaching staff, and for what they had done with previous stars. In such a short time, Dendy’s resume surpasses that of many other 21 year-olds, but he is just looking to improve in any way possible, and to him that means not fouling and staying healthy.

Dendy has had a multitude of injuries plague him throughout his career including a torn labrum he suffered at the 2013 World Championships, but he is hoping his strong mental discipline will push him through, and another small gift from his parents would not hurt either.

“I think I want my car repainted now so I think I have to talk to [my dad],” Dendy laughs.

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UF was the Right Choice for Rachel Spicer

By on March 19th, 2014

Rachel Spicer didn’t grow up as a Gator, but the minute she stepped on campus, she knew the University of Florida was where she wanted to be.

Spicer, a junior from Highland Village, Texas, said there are no Division I schools with gymnastics programs in her home state. She knew she would be leaving Texas for college. She visited the University of Oklahoma because going to The University of Oklahoma would keep her closer to home, but she couldn’t see herself there.

She then got the opportunity to come to UF, she said.

“The atmosphere here just called my name,” Spicer said. “I knew this was it. This is where I want to be.”

From the time she started her college career, Spicer has seen UF gymnastics history. Her freshman year, the Gators were runner-up to the national champions, Alabama. Her sophomore year, 2013, the Gators won their first-ever gymnastics national championship.

“It was unbelievable,” she said. “My freshman year, we were so close. We got second place by (less than a point). It was like nothing, it was like a step on a landing.”

Spicer said the team worked ten times harder the next year because they knew they had the potential to be champions.

“To actually go out and do it and make school history is such a great feeling to know you’re on the first national championship team ever,” she said.

Spicer said she started doing gymnastics when she was about 4. She also participated in dance until she was about 8 when she had to choose between the two.

“It just got so intense with gymnastics and the training hours,” she said. “I was only 8, maybe 9, and I couldn’t do 25 hours a week of other stuff and keep up with school so that’s when I decided to just do gymnastics.”

According to Gatorzone.com, Spicer competed in the Junior Olympics each year from 2008 to 2011. In the 2010 Level 10 Championships, Spicer was all-around champion in her division.

She said she did her training before school at 6 a.m., go to school at 9:30 and return to gym after school. She graduated early from high school and started at UF before her senior year was over.

Spicer is majoring in applied physiology and kinesiology with a minor in business. After graduation, she wants to combine medical and business and perhaps be a medical equipment sales representative or something similar.

“I have a major that’s definitely not the easiest because I know that’s what my life will be after gymnastics,” she said.


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Whitson’s back to make an impact

By on March 17th, 2014

For Karsten Whitson, baseball has always been his passion. He was raised in Chipley, Florida where learned to love the game of baseball. “Growing up, as I got a little older and moved through tee ball and little league, I just loved the game and knew it was something that I really wanted to do,” said Whitson.

He gained this passion and love for the game from the person he considers to be his role model, his dad. “He taught me how to play the game, he taught how to the respect the game, and for that I always looked up to him,” said Whitson.

Following his father’s footsteps, Whitson chose to attend the University of Florida where he would continue to play baseball. He always dreamed of being a Gator, so the decision to attend UF was fairly easy.

After his second season with the Gators, Whitson experienced a shoulder injury which required surgery and resulted in him miss his entire junior year. Although his playing time would be affected by this procedure, Whitson looked forward to his surgery because he knew that it was necessary. “I was to my last resort. I was like I got to get this fixed. I’m tired of being in pain,” Whitson explained.

After patiently waiting, Whitson is now ready to get back on the field and return to the game he loves. He has used this experience as a stepping stone and has put in much time and effort to prepare for the upcoming season. Whitson participated in the team’s fall inner squads, where he threw 15 innings. Whitson said, “that was kind of a good boost for me because I was able to face hitters again and kind of get some confidence back.”

Whitson hopes his return will greatly impact his team and looks forward to the goals they will accomplish this upcoming season. “We expect to get back to Omaha and we definitely expect to be a team that’s going to contend for a SEC championship this year,” said Whitson.

Whitson  looks forward to being back on the field with his teammates and playing the game he loves the most. Whitson said, “Its going to feel good. Just being out there is going to be awesome, and being out there with these guys is what I think I miss most.”

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Life took four-time decorated star from the field to the track

By on March 17th, 2014

Walking onto the University of Florida campus his freshman year, Eddie Lovett didn’t see track and field as his future.

Lovett was thrilled to run track, but his main focus was football. Now three years later as three years later as a senior, he’s a four-time decorated Southeastern Conference champion.

The reality is before Lovett came to UF he played football with former Gator defensive back Matt Elam in high school, which made his focus on another sport apart from his true diversion.

“When I first got here, I was excited to run track, but I wanted to play football,” Lovett said. “ I even talked to Mouse (coach Mike Holloway) about it and he gave me his words and I thought about it, but once the [track] season started and after SEC’s, it was just kind of like, let me see where this goes.”

The senior hurdler from West Palm Beach, Fla., accrued a numerous amount of accolades throughout his collegiate career.

From being the UF record-holder in the 60-meter hurdles and 55-meter hurdles with times of 7.50 and 7.10, Lovett is the second UF athlete to attempt a four-peat.

His pure intention was not to only be a hurdler, but to achieve greatness on and off the track.

“I pretty much give credit to a lot of my ability to a higher power, to God, and just what I believe his purpose is for me and using the abilities I have,” Lovett said. “Before I get on the blocks, I basically say God lead my steps, I speak to my dad, I say a prayer to him and that’s about it, and just get ready for the race and however it happens, it happens.”

Purpose is Lovett’s biggest motivation, and since being an indoor SEC champion from his freshman year, he follows the same principles.

The Palm Beach Lakes High alum said being consistent and having a gradual build gets him to that point in the season when it’s time to turn the jets on, he makes it happen.

His instructor since 2011 has been Mike Holloway. Holloway has coached Lovett throughout his whole tenure at UF.

Witnessing the maturation process of one of his finest athletes, Holloway knows Lovett as well as anybody else.

“If you look at Eddie’s performances over his career here, he’s done a wonderful job of understanding that it’s not about being the best in the country at a meet, it’s about being the best guy in the country at the national championships.”

Aiming to be the best in the country at all times will assist Lovett in seeking to complete his four-peat as a UF track star.


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From Houston to Gainesville, the Sydney DuPre Story

By on March 17th, 2014

For some players, leaving home to go and play a sport in another state can be hard. But that wasn’t the case for Gaor Lacrosse player Sydney DuPre. The sophomore defensive player from Houston, Texas grew up with Southeastern Conference bloodlines as her father played golf for Louisiana State University. And once the opportunity was given, she couldn’t turn down an offer to play for the Gators.

“I grew up in a family that supported SEC sports and I started getting recruited by some colleges for lacrosse and Florida was the only SEC school, so that was a really big point that sold me.”

DuPre, who was listed as a top 25 player in the nation before her senior year at Episcopal High School by MaxPreps, said that her visit to Florida really stood out to her.

“Everything about UF is so amazing and when I came and visited, I was just instantly sold.”

As a freshman, DuPre appeared in all 21 games and started 19 of them. The Gators lacrosse team competes in the American Lacrosse Conference, since there is no SEC in lacrosse. She was named ALC Rookie of the Week three times, and was named to the 2013 ALC Academic Honor Roll, as well as the 2013 SEC First-Year Academic Honor Roll. She recorded 15 ground balls and eight draw controls as a freshman.

DuPre credits both of her parents for being the biggest influences in her life. “My dad played sports all of his life and he really taught me how to work hard and really excel in whatever you choose to do and my mom is just always there to support me.”

DuPre now finds herself in an interesting position on the team. Even though she’s just a sophomore, she will be leaned on to become a leader for a team that has 11 true freshmen. “Me and Krista (Grabher) are the only veterans on the defensive end, and all of our defense last year were seniors and we learned so much from them and I think that’s really helped me to step up as a leader, just learning from them and seeing how they played last year has really helped me.”

DuPre and the rest of the Florida lacrosse squad will now set their sights on capturing a conference and if things fall into place, a national title in the 2014 season.

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Kelsey Hart is Stepping up in the Sunshine State

By on March 17th, 2014

When New York native and Florida lacrosse player Kelsey Hart traveled down the east coast to her new home at the University of Florida, she had no problem adapting to her new lifestyle.

“It was definitely a big change, coming from up north to here. I find it a little slower, the driving’s a lot different and just the way everyone lives. But the people here are really nice and the Gator Nation is a great place to live,” Hart said. 

She isn’t the only one who chose to head down south. Twenty-three of the 28 Florida lacrosse players are from states in the northeastern region. 

Kelsey got an early start to the game when her dad signed her up to play at age four; her love for lacrosse continued to grow as she played for her local club team through high school.   Now a college sophomore, she is a consistent member of the Florida lacrosse defensive lineup. 

“I think that this year is a lot different because it’s phase two, the seniors have graduated and it’s just our time, even as sophomores, to step up to the plate,” said Hart.

With practice six days a week, early morning weightlifting and conditioning sessions, as well as weekends traveling out of state, the Gator lacrosse team spends the majority of its time together. But “FLAX”, as they call themselves, still can’t seem to get enough of each other.

“We’re all so close,” Hart said.  “Whether it’s dinner on a Friday night or going to the movies, everyone is always texting each other saying ‘let’s go here’ or ‘let’s go there’, so I’d say we’re a very close-knit team.”  “As soon as I came to the school, I knew that this is where I wanted to go. If it wasn’t the weather, it was the facility, it’s amazing, and Mandy [O’Leary] is just a great coach and person.” 

Describing the atmosphere at practice as “always positive”, Kelsey understands the importance of keeping each other up and going even when someone is having a bad day.

When asked about her best memory so far as a Gator, Hart told a funny story. 

“One of my favorites was Florida Letterman Awards last year where we put on a performance. We actually did the Pitch Perfect dance in front of the Gator athletes.”

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Gators Volleyball Player Gabby Mallette Improves Physically and Mentally at UF

By on March 17th, 2014

For sophomore Gators volleyball player Gaby Mallette, the University of Florida gives her more than an opportunity to play volleyball, but the opportunity to receive a first rate education.

The 6-foot-2 outside hitter recently earned a spot on the Southeastern Conference Fall 2013 Academic Honor Roll. She was also named to the SEC First-Year Academic Honor Roll in 2012. But Mallette admits balancing school and volleyball is not easy.

“It’s really, really hard. If I said it was easy, I’d be lying,” Mallette said.

Colette DuChanois / ESPN 850 WRUF

Mallette knew the importance of academics even in high school. She attended the Bolles School in Jacksonville, Florida where she played volleyball for the Bulldogs. Mallette says Bolles not only prepared her for playing volleyball at a NCAA Division I school, but taking a college course load as well.

“Going to Bolles, a pretty challenging school, has helped me so much. I don’t know where I’d be without it,” Mallette said.

Mallette says discipline is the reason for her success in the classroom.

“What a lot of athletes, I think, forget is that we’re not here for our sport, we’re here to learn. So I think just keeping my priorities straight really helps,” Mallette said.

But the classroom is not the only place Mallette learns at UF. She says Gators Head Volleyball Coach Mary Wise also teaches her how to be a better person and player.

“I think I’ve changed so much since I’ve gotten here because Mary really does just make people grow up. I’m the baby and so my mom has always babied me, Mallette said, “But Mary pushes you so hard. For volleyball, she wants you to be a good player, but she wants you to be a great person as well. So every situation you go through, she can relate it back to your life and how it’s going to affect you when you have a job and stuff like that.”

Since Mallette strives to be well rounded, she plans to improve her volleyball game too. According to GatorZone.com, she ranks second on the team in total attacks (644) and fourth in kills (248). As an outside hitter, Mallette only plays in three rotations. But she says she plans to work on her serving as well.

“I think it’d be great for me to develop my game as an all-around player instead of just blocking and hitting,” said Mallette, “To just develop all my skills would be really good for me.”

Mallette is a Telecommunications major and she hopes to land an internship in the broadcasting field after she graduates.

“I love Telecommunications,” said Mallette, “I’d rather do some of that and feel like a real person than just an athlete for the rest of my life.”

But until she graduates, Mallette plans to keep up her strong work ethic on the court and in the classroom.

“Working hard and just not being satisfied are my biggest goals.”

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Transfer golfer Richard Donegan wears orange and blue best

By on March 13th, 2014

From small town Okeechobee, Gator golfer Richard Donegan says going to school in Gainesville is just like being home. However, Donegan’s collegiate golf career did not start at the University of Florida.

Photo Credit: @GatorZoneGolf

Donegan and Coach Alexander at the Sea Best Invitational

Donegan is a transferred student from Florida Atlantic University. During his freshman season, he was the leading scorer on the team with an average score of 73.1 and tied for the most rounds played in a season (29). Still, Donegan couldn’t pass up the opportunity he had at UF.

“The legacy that Coach (Buddy) Alexander has really stands out compared to other schools that I was talking to. I feel like this is the best opportunity to get better over the next few years, I just wanted to take a chance and this is where I’m at now,” he says.

He has already made it onto the World Amateur Golf Ranking list; after college, he is hoping to play professionally on the PGA Tour.

Donegan began golfing at a young age. He said that his mom and dad were the reason for his success early on, even if it cost his dad some course time.
“My parents didn’t necessarily play golf that much, but when they did my dad definitely took me out on some courses and sometimes got kicked off because of me, being a little kid. Then when I was in eighth and ninth grade we moved right next to a golf course, and in your free time when you can’t drive yet you just have to go out and find something to do and that was golf for me.”

In high school, Donegan played three or four months out of the year; he also played baseball until his senior year when he focused on golf, and it truly paid off. He won the Class 2A State Championship, and he was the only golfer to finish at an even par of 144 during the tournament.

When asked if he had any pre-match rituals that help him score so well, he said he’s not really a “freaky guy.” Just like anyone else though, he has his superstitions. “I always eat the same breakfast whenever we play in the morning: a couple eggs over medium, some sausage, and always some chocolate milk. Chocolate milk is essential.”

Donegan has been already been a huge asset to the Gator golf team, earning the best score in their first event of the season. His hopes are high for his first season as a Gator.
“Hopefully we can compete for a national title, that’s everybody’s goal- get the SEC and national title.”

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