WRUF Profiles

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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Lacrosse’s Nicole Graziano: Grateful to be a Gator

By on November 14th, 2013
Nicole Graziano

Missy Perez / WRUF

Nicole Graziano

For most lacrosse players, leaving a northeastern state like New Jersey, where the sport is popular, to play in Florida is unheard of. But for University of Florida junior Nicole Graziano, turning down the opportunity to play for the Gators was not an option.

“The coaches definitely sold the university to me,” said Graziano. “And just coming down here—it’s hard not to love it.”

The midfielder played lacrosse as a four-year starter for West Morris Mendham High School in New Jersey before deciding to join her older sister, Erin, as a Gator after her first visit to Gainesville.

“There were many different factors that led me to come here. One of them was definitely our facilities; they are unlike any other in the whole country,” said Graziano. “We travel to a bunch of different schools, and I don’t think anything compares to the University of Florida.”

Since becoming a Gator, Graziano has appeared in nearly every game, recording 37 goals in her first two seasons, and made the 2012 SEC First-Year Honor Roll following her freshman season. However, her favorite moment during her first two years was not an individual achievement.

“My proudest accomplishment is probably winning the American Lacrosse Conference tournaments my past two years. That was definitely a huge team victory for us, when we won those championships,” said Graziano.

A superstitious person, not a game goes by that Graziano does not partake in some pregame ritual before taking the field.

“Me and two of my teammates– Krista [Grabher] and Lauren Lea, we do this thing where we have game day tattoos–they are fake tattoos that we put on the inside of our left wrists,” said Graziano.

She added that braiding her hair, wearing a headband and eating Chicken Marsala the night before a game are a must for success. That success is important now and in the future.

Lacrosse has always been an important part of Graziano’s life. So important that she hopes it will translate into a career down the road.

“I hope to see myself coaching lacrosse, or maybe just doing something in sports,” said Graziano.

For now, Graziano is excited to don orange and blue when she takes the field with her teammates for the 2014 season.

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Bridgette Caquatto looks to help Gators gymnastics build on success

By on November 5th, 2013

Brandon Spierto / WRUF

Bridgette Caquatto

After missing most of the season while recovering from major shoulder surgery, Gators gymnast Bridgette Caquatto didn’t have much experience when she stepped onto the floor to compete at the 2012 NCAA Super Six as a true freshman. But she performed like a seasoned veteran.

Caquatto turned in a nearly flawless performance, earning a score of 9.95 in the floor exercise. The score was good enough to tie for second overall in the event in the team finals, and it helped complete the Gators’ improbable comeback to earn the program’s first ever national championship.

“I knew I had to hit my floor routine because we had a lot of falls on the first rotation. I wasn’t worried about hitting it. I was just worried about having fun, knowing that I had done everything I could have done. I just wanted to do great for the team because I knew that our team was so special and we could have won the NCAA Championship, and we did,” said Caquatto.

Caquatto will look to build on her Super Six performance as the Gators prepare to defend their national title this season. The sophomore from Naperville, Illinois came in as a top recruit out of Naperville Central High School, but off-season surgery kept her sidelined for most of last season. She hopes to be able to contribute to the team in a larger role this year now that she’s fully healthy.

“This year I’m really hoping to make a name for myself and show the coaches that they can trust me out there to help the team in any way possible,” said Caquatto.

Luckily for Bridgette, she has an older role model to learn from on the team in her sister Mackenzie. Mackenzie Caquatto is already a five-time All-American for Florida as she enters her senior season as a Gator, and Bridgette hopes to learn from her sister’s success.

“Having her here is one of the main reasons I committed to Florida,” said Bridgette. “I was so happy to be reunited with her and be able to train with her again. I think we bring out the best in each other when we have good days or bad days in the gym.”

The two sisters will need the good days to outnumber the bad if they hope to contend for another national championship this year. Even after achieving the ultimate prize in her freshman season, Bridgette said the thrill of winning the title motivates here even more to do it again this year.

“The hardest thing to do is to repeat a championship,” said Caquatto. “It makes me want it even more. It makes me want to have it happen every year that I’m here.”

Caquatto and the Gators will begin their quest to defend their title on January 11 when they travel to Los Angeles to take on the UCLA Bruins.

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Josh Tobias: A Hard Worker On and Off the Baseball Field

By on October 31st, 2013

Courtney McKenna / WRUF

Josh Tobias

Overcoming state-lines and injuries, Junior Infielder Josh Tobias could not be happier playing baseball for the Florida Gators.

At South Guilford High School in Greensboro, NC, Tobias had a successful career especially in his senior year when the team made it to regionals.  His success led to being selected by the Washington Nationals in the 2011 Major League Baseball Draft.

“I got drafted that year to the Nationals; that was a big accomplishment for me. I was the first kid to get drafted out of my high school,” said Tobias.

Coming to UF rather than going to the minors was an easy decision for Tobias. He looked at other schools, including ones near his home town, but when he came to UF he felt home. Both of Tobias’ parents attended UF, and growing up a Florida fan made Tobias excited to be a second generation Gator.

“School has always been big to me. I wanted to get my degree. I am a Geology major, so that is something I have always wanted to do. It was a win-win situation, so I chose to get my degree and I can always get drafted this year coming up,” said Tobias.

Tobias has been successful both on the field and in the classroom, making the SEC Academic Honor Roll his sophomore year.

During the off-season, Tobias worked to perfect his game at multiple positions in the infield, and would like to play any position he is offered at the professional level. This season he hopes to gain more experience to help him reach the next level, but for now, Tobias is ready to get on the field with his team.

“We have a lot of new guys. It is a great team. I like it a lot. I am just looking forward to playing with them all, and winning games with them,” Tobias said.

Tobias is anxious this season to play at South Carolina for the chance for his high school teammates and family to watch him on the field. But even more than the chance to play for his hometown fans, Tobias is looking forward for the chance to play in Omaha and bring back a national championship for the Gators.

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Freshman Elliott Orkin Looks to Serve Up Results in First Season

By on October 31st, 2013

Logan Ladnyk / WRUF

Elliott Orkin

University of Florida freshman men’s tennis player Elliot Orkin has been so good since joining the team, some of the staff at the Alfred A. Ring Tennis Complex have started calling him “superstar.”

Orkin’s favorite tennis player is Rafael Nadal, but he follows other sports as well. He also keeps up with the Atlanta Falcons. His hometown of Marietta, Georgia, is one of Atlanta’s largest suburbs.

He chose to come to Gainesville because UF was his dream school. Since coming to Florida, older players and coaches have become role models, both on and off the court.

At only 5’7″, Orkin is the shortest member of the Gators’ tennis team by three inches. But, his height hasn’t been a handicap because of his playing style.

“I wasn’t going to be able to win by hitting huge serves and destroying people off the court,” he said.  “So, I would have to hit a bigger ball. Over the years I’ve found ways to do that and beat players that are bigger than me.”

At the ITA Southeast Regional in Atlanta in mid-October, Orkin made the semifinals in both the singles and doubles category. In singles, he beat the No. 1 player on both the Florida State and Miami squads. Alongside teammate Gordon Watson, the pair defeated the duo of Dominic Cotrone and Blake Davis of FSU; the Seminoles team was ranked No. 12 at the end of the year by the Intercollegiate Tennis Association.

Heading into the spring season, Orkin believes UF has the potential to win the Southeastern Conference championship even though he believes the SEC is the best conference for tennis.

Past the SEC, Orkin thinks the team can make it to Athens, Georgia, where the remaining 16 teams in the NCAA tournament play for the national championship.

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UF swimmer Marcin Cieslak reaching for success this season, next Olympics

By on October 31st, 2013

Kelly Price / WRUF

Marcin Cieslak

Most kids in Poland grow up with dreams to play soccer or basketball.

Not Marcin Cieslak.

The UF swimmer, 21, grew up an athlete with many passions as a child in Warsaw, Poland. He said he spent about six hours a day outside, playing soccer, biking, and swimming at a local pool.

A coach one day stopped by the pool and asked Cieslak if he wanted to join a real swim practice.

“Yeah, sure,” he replied.

And that’s how he got into swimming.

In Europe, Cieslak said, it’s difficult to commit to school and compete athletically. So at age 15 he left home to attend an athletics-centered school in Krakow, Poland’s second-largest city, five hours away from his home.

“At first it was just for fun, I was just enjoying going to practice and just having fun,” he said. “And then I started competing at some bigger meets and I thought, ‘Yeah, this might be the sport I’m going to be doing for a long time.’”

While other Polish children idolized Michael Jordan on TV, Cieslak watched in awe as Michael Phelps shattered records at the 2008 Olympics. That’s when Cieslak decided moving across the globe was the next natural step in his swimming career.

He began shopping around American universities, including Michigan and California, looking for a school with a good educational reputation in addition to a strong swimming program. He and his dad blasted out emails to collegiate coaches to garner attention.

“(In Europe,) I could either go to school and get a good degree and just stop swimming, or become a professional swimmer and don’t do any school because I don’t have any time,” he said.

Florida stood out. Among all the coaches he was in contact with, Cieslak said UF Associate Head Coach for Men’s Swimming, Anthony Nesty, was his favorite. The program matched his skillset, too. He also said he likes the weather and Florida’s palm trees.

“Actually I got here in January so it was really nice,” Cieslak said. “I left Poland and it was snowing and very cold.  It was very nice in the heat and I was like, ‘Wow.’ When summer started, I realized it might be a little too warm, so thank God somebody invented air conditioning.”

Last season, Cieslak was on the UF squad that claimed the NCAA title in the 800-meter freestyle relay and set a school record with a time of 6:13.27. After the race, he said the team hugged and screamed Gator chants.

“That was a big moment. That was probably the most fun race I’ve ever had,” he said. “That was my first national championship, and the only one so far, so I’ve enjoyed that moment a lot.”

He has also claimed the SEC title in the 200-meter fly two seasons in a row, and won the 100-meter fly at SEC’s last year.

In 2012, though, Cieslak took to the international stage with other Gators like Ryan Lochte and Elizabeth Beisel at the London Olympics. He placed 19th overall both in the 200 meter individual medley and 200 meter butterfly for Poland.

“I didn’t do as well as I wanted to, but going to the Olympics is just a huge thing for every athlete,” he said. “It’s just like a huge family of athletes, everyone lives in the same village, everyone’s an athlete. It’s hard to describe but it’s a great feeling. Everyone’s so close. Like you don’t know people but you feel and you share the passion with them.”

Although SEC competition and the NCAA championships are primary priorities, Cieslak is also looking forward to trying to medal at the Rio de Janeiro games in 2016.

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Christen Westphal: No Fear, No regrets

By on October 31st, 2013

Bonnie Mott / WRUF

Christen Westphal

Florida Soccer defender Christen Westphal left her hometown of Brecksville, Ohio knowing she was about to make one of the best decisions of her life – becoming a Florida Gator. The moment she visited the University of Florida she knew she was meant to be a part of Gator Nation.

“After talking with Becky (Burleigh) and walking around the campus, I knew I really liked the program and the coaches. Basically, it was the atmosphere and a gut feeling,” said Westphal. “I just knew that I was meant to be here.”

Westphal now a sophomore, said the desire to compete on the field was instilled not long after birth. In fact, sports have always played a prominent role in the Westphal family. Her father David, played basketball and baseball at Washington and Jefferson College and her mother Kathy was a professional competitive dancer for 18 years.

Westphal said she knew she was destined to follow her parent’s footsteps, and even though her father lives in Ohio, he never misses a single game.

“Last year at the SEC tournament my dad surprised me by making the 15 hour trip to Orange Beach, Alabama arriving just before our first match,” said Westphal. “It was such a special moment for me, definitely a moment that I will never forget.”

Westphal’s successful freshman season in 2012 included winning an SEC Tournament, appearing in every match at center back, leading Florida’s field players by averaging 87.2 minutes per match, being named to the All-SEC Freshman Team, Soccer All-Freshman second team, and a member of the SEC First- Year Academic Honor Roll.

Living with “no fear, no regrets” Westphal said she never doubted her passion and determination to excel and succeed both on and off the field.

For her sophomore season, Westphal is driven to continue grinding on the field and accomplishing her dreams.

“My goal for this season is to just continue to get better and work on things that I’ve struggled on this past year, said Westphal.

With two more years of collegiate play, she has plenty of time to keep making her mark. For now, Westphal is working on a Biology degree, and hopeful to one day play professional soccer or attend medical school to become a pharmacist.

Westphal and the Gators pack their bags and head to Orange Beach, Alabama for another SEC Tournament Nov. 4-10 and Westphal has high hopes of bringing home another SEC Title.

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