WRUF Profiles

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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Gators Swimmer Brad deBorde: Rising from obscurity, a champion is born

By on October 25th, 2013


Brad deBorde

Gator senior swimmer Brad deBorde got his start in the water because he was hot.

“I would be coming from soccer practice and it was so hot that I would just get into the water. The coaches saw me and were like, ‘your brother is trying out; do you want to try out, too?’ It was kind of natural,” deBorde said.

Though his start as a swimmer was a natural process, his journey to the top of collegiate swimming was far from natural.

Brad deBorde, a 14-time All-American, 2012 SEC champion in the 50 freestyle, and vital member of the men’s team that took the SEC title this past February, wasn’t a touted recruit coming out of high school.

Unlike many of his fellow swimmers, he wasn’t pursued by numerous colleges.

As fate would have it however, on the day he won the Florida state title in the 200 freestyle as a high school senior, Florida head coach Gregg Troy caught glimpse of him and saw he had found a future star.

“When he [Coach Troy] saw me win states, he called me the next day and spoke a lot to me about having potential,” said deBorde.

The phone call changed deBorde’s life, as he had never thought he would receive the attention of one of the best swimming coaches and programs in the nation.

“It meant a lot that he was there and even with how little knowledge I had back then about swimming, I had heard about him and obviously about Ryan’s [Lochte] accomplishments and about the famous coaching staff here,” deBorde admitted.

Despite a positive high school career, deBorde’s arrival on the Florida campus represented an awakening of sorts.

Things were different, tougher.

“From my high school experience, I really didn’t have any guys to push me or train with. And then when I came here, there would be people doing my best times in practice; seeing that just expanded my horizons in a way that I was able to learn more about myself. I realized that the things you think are impossible can be achieved,” he said. “I’ve learned how to push yourself beyond limits. Because swimming is based on a clock which is like an impartial judge, you really know where you are at all times. In training you learn your limits, what you can do, and then you learn to exceed those.”

Exceeding his limits is not a foreign concept for Brad.

As an industrial and systems engineering major, he constantly has to carefully plan out each day to keep things in check and maintain his excellent performance in the classroom and the pool as an SEC Academic Honor Roll Selection.

“It’s definitely a practice of being a master at time management. My sophomore year I was living on like four hours of sleep and it was just unhealthy. You just have to learn how to prioritize things. When I’m at swimming, I’m 100% focused on swimming and then as soon as I’m done with that I know I have to refuel and then get to do homework. I haven’t really used the tutoring services here the last couple of years because they don’t really offer them for engineering majors, so pretty much during the week I’m either doing homework or training, and that’s fine with me; I chose this lifestyle.” he continued.

Despite seemingly having it all under control winning titles and getting A’s, Brad is aware that success is a very relative thing and it should never be taken lightly.

With his feet firmly on the ground, he is thankful to be able to fulfill a dream he never realized he had.

“Initially, I wasn’t sold on being able to swim in college; I never thought I’d be fast enough, really. So coming here meant a lot. Growing up in Florida I had heard how fast the Gators were all the time so being able to participate and be a big part of that was a small dream that I didn’t realize I had, but it was a dream that I could achieve; that was pretty neat,” he said.

As the dream became a reality, the self-described scrawny kid from high school gained almost 40 pounds in muscle weight and realized his presence on the team mattered.

And for him, this is perhaps still his biggest achievement to date.

“I never thought that I could do anything for this team. Now that I realize my role, I’m more confident of what I can do and I’m able to speak to everyone about that,” he said. “Knowing that I have a voice and that someone will listen is probably the biggest change for me.”

And well,that is a pretty good change to go through.

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Outside the Posts with UF Lacrosse’s Mary-Sean Wilcox

By on October 23rd, 2013

Zak Dahlheimer / WRUF

Mary-Sean Wilcox

Lacrosse has been a mainstay in UF goalkeeper Mary-Sean Wilcox’s life ever since the sophomore was just three years old. Growing up outside of Baltimore in Lutherville, MD, lacrosse is a rite of passage for many kids in the area.

“I’d have to say probably the first time I picked up a stick was when I was 3 years old,” said Wilcox, “Growing up in Baltimore, it’s a part of the lifestyle there. Everyone just loves lacrosse. It’s very competitive there so people start playing very young.”

Wilcox played for Notre Dame Prep, where she helped her team to a state championship runner-up finish, a semifinal appearance, and a No. 2 ranking in the 2011 Maryland Preseason Poll. She was also named a top-25 goalkeeper by ESPNHS.

“It’s really competitive for the MIAA (Maryland Interscholastic Athletic Association),” said Wilcox, “We’re all still playing against players in college, like University of Maryland’s Taylor Cummings. It was great competition.”

When it was time to pick a college, Wilcox chose Florida over Penn State and Maryland.

“Growing up I knew I wanted to play lacrosse in college. I always knew I wanted to play lacrosse in Florida, even before they (UF) had a program,” Wilcox said. “When they created their program, I was really excited.”

Wilcox made 11 appearances in over 176 minutes in goal for the Gators her freshman season. She recorded 21 saves, allowed just 16 goals, held a 5.44 goals-against average, and a .568 save percentage. Wilcox was helped by head coach Amanda O’Leary’s defensive background.

“She (coach Amanda O’Leary) really understands the game so well and knows what to do in almost every single situation,” said Wilcox, ”Her being one of the more defensive coaches, it’s been really nice getting that individual time with her.”

Wilcox and fellow goalkeeper Cara Canington have been training vigorously in the offseason in preparation to defend the net for the Gators in 2014.

“We always work very hard and we work well together too,” said Wilcox, “We know how to help each other out. We’re just trying to make each other better.”

After going 18-3 in 2013 and losing a majority of the founding class, Wilcox has high expectations both for herself and the team moving towards the 2014 season.

“I would say teamwise to stay competitive as we are, keep working out, and keep pushing through and working as hard as we can. Just from losing the initial class, everyone’s expectations are very low. I don’t think that’s the case. I think we’re going to be very good,” said Wilcox.

With hard work, perseverance, and dedication, Wilcox and the Gators will look to achieve more success in the 2014 season.

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Gator Golfer A.J. Crouch: Chipping Away For Success

By on October 19th, 2013

Yancey Cook / WRUF

A.J. Crouch

The University of Florida Men’s Golf team is in full swing for the Fall season. After losing four seniors from last year that helped carry the team to a 12th place finish at the NCAA Championships, the Gators are looking to rebound with a very young, but talented, team. The key to success for the Gators is having the young guys step up and mature for the Spring season. That’s exactly what Sophomore A.J. Crouch hopes to do.

Crouch has had a lot of individual success to already in his career. His senior year of high school he won the St. Augustine Amateur Championship against 70 other amateur golfers. He also traveled around the nation to participate in junior golf tournaments.

“In the summer, when I wasn’t in school, I traveled around the country to different tournaments. I was ranked as high as 15th in the country after my senior year,” said Crouch.

Crouch hopes his team his team success at Bolles High School in Jacksonville, FL, will translate into team success for the Gators.

“We (Bolles) had been to the state championship every year since my freshmen year and finally we got it done. I came in third individually at state my senior year,” said Crouch.

Although Crouch hasn’t qualified to go to any of the tournaments yet this season, he believes he can pull out of this slump and show the potential he’s showed flashes of in his young career.

“I’ve been struggling so far this season. In the Spring I want to become an SEC All-American and if I turn it on, I have no doubt I can accomplish that,” said Crouch. “My career goals here at the University of Florida are to become an NCAA All-American as well as bring a SEC and National title back to Gainesville.”

After college, Crouch hopes to achieve his dream of playing professionally.

“I’ve always envisioned myself playing on the PGA Tour. I know that I have the skill set and athletic ability to do so. As long as I keep my head on straight and keep working hard, then it’s going to happen,” Crouch said.

Even if the Tour doesn’t work out for A.J. he’s happy knowing he’s getting a quality education from the University of Florida while majoring in Economics. Although he’s not one-hundred percent sure Economics would be his chosen route, he feels very comfortable with his “Plan B” and said, “What could be better than a degree from the University of Florida?”

The Gators next tournament, the Kiawah Invitational, will be October 27-29 in Kiawah Island, South Carolina. Crouch is hoping to join the team for the first time this year and begin chipping away at his dreams.

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Eduardo Solaeche-Gomez: The Man of Madrid

By on October 9th, 2013

Logan J McGuire / WRUF

Eduardo Solaeche-Gomez

Just a way to stay healthy, that’s all swimming was for six-year-old Eduardo Solaeche-Gomez when he picked up the sport with his brother. It was a way for them to motivate each other. And after 13 years and a trip across the Atlantic Ocean it seems to have worked.

Solaeche-Gomez started competing only one year after he began training – a race he still remembers.

“I was probably seven years old, and it was the 25 (meter) breast stroke. I remember that I was really nervous and I missed the first start because someone made a noise and I made a false start, but at that point they let us have two so I got back in and raced,” said the UF Junior.

He would go on to win that race, the first of many. But it wouldn’t be until high school that Solaeche-Gomez noticed his potential when he won his first junior national title in the 400-meter individual medley (IM) by, as he recalled, about five seconds – practically an eternity in the pool. From then on, swimming became his main focus.

Now a Gator and four-time All-American swimming 7,000 to 12,000 yards a day, this has become an identity for him.

“Swimming is my life,” he said. “We train a lot…If you don’t really like it you wouldn’t be doing this.”

Originally from Madrid, Spain, the swimming culture there is much more intimate.

“We’re more close to each other I would say. So for example the relation I had with my coach was almost the same as I have with my father,” he said.

A relationship he has since lost after coming to Florida because his coach from Spain no longer talks to him.

He chose Florida because it has always been a well-known school around the world for IM and middle distance events – Solaeche-Gomez’s forte – as well as being able to swim under a renowned coaching staff and the chance to train with a swimmer like Ryan Lochte.

Coming off eye surgery last year – the seventh or ninth in his life  – from an old injury he sustained as a child when his brother hit him in his right eye with a rock that almost cost him his eye, Solaeche-Gomez was feeling down after last season. Then his moral would take another blow.

Solaeche-Gomez was snubbed from the Spanish national team this summer and therefore not allowed to compete in the 2013 FINA World Championships in Barcelona. It wasn’t something he or UF head swim coach Gregg Troy, took lightly.

Troy told him the best thing he could do to let the Spanish national team know he was a good swimmer was to break a national record. The 200-meter IM, his favorite swim, was his goal.

“I feel really strong in that event,” he said. “You have to sprint all the time… It’s not as long as the 400 (IM) since you have to be a little patient. In the 200 (IM) you can just go all out probably since the first 25 (meters).”

On August 8, his goal was actualized when he swam his best long-course 200-meter IM at the 2013 Spanish Nationals in Las Palmas de Gran Canaria, Spain.

“When I got off the blocks I just thought about all the hard work that I was doing, about all my teammates and all the support the coaches gave me here,” he said. “I thought about all those guys, all the mornings, all the stuff that we’ve been going though and, you know, the hard work and I saw myself ready and I said ‘now is the moment to do, all year training for this’ so I was really ready. I wasn’t even feeling pain or tired I was just focused on keep swimming fast.”

He touched at 1:59.39, making him the fastest Spaniard to ever swim the event.

After his strong summer, Solaeche-Gomez is poised for a big year.

Troy called him one of his potential breakout swimmers this season at the All-Sports press conference on Sept. 16.

“It’s always good hearing that from your coach. That means he has his confidence in you,” Solaeche-Gomez said. “He makes me feel important on the team…I just decided to change my mind. I give my best all the time.”

And a confidence boost at this point may be all he needs to reach the next level.

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