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Gators hope for return to glory
By ANTONYA ENGLISH
Published January 21, 2005
GAINESVILLE - The women's tennis team, ranked No. 2 by the ITA's Collegiate Tennis Ranking, opens the season on Saturday against Baylor with a squad fifth-year coach Roland Thornqvist says has more upside than any he has had before.
Considering the Gators won the NCAA championship just two years ago, that's saying a lot.
"I think we have a chance to become a better team and a chance to improve more than any team I've had here from January to May," Thornqvist said. "We're very talented, but young. There are going to be days where we play extraordinary tennis and then follow it up next time, maybe not. Hopefully, by May, that gap between great tennis and bad tennis has gotten smaller. I think they have a chance to be really, really good because we are talented."
The past can be a strong motivator and, because of the way last season ended, the Gators are on a mission. Ranked No. 1 and a favorite to win it all, Florida was upset by Miami in the first round of the NCAA Tournament.
"Really, losing to Miami last year leaves a bitter taste in your mouth," said junior Jennifer Magley, who most likely will start the season at No. 1 singles. "We had a perfect season, then to have what is referred to as the worst loss in NCAA history after winning it the year before, it's something that stays with you all summer. It really inspires you to do better."
"We've definitely had the hardest working fall of any I've been here," Thornqvist added. "The four returning players are very motivated to get started again. I don't think anybody liked the way it ended."
The third-ranked men's team hosts UCF at 1 p.m. on Sunday, but without All-American Janne Holmia, who had back surgery on Jan. 12 and is out for the season. Coach Andy Jackson said this team is the product of years of building.
"I think it's a progression," Jackson said. "My first year at Florida we finished 11th and got to the round 16 of the NCAA, but it set us up and gave us experience at a very high level so that next year we weren't scared when we got back to those situations with the same team. Last year we had a lot of new guys that had not competed at that level, but because we had a lot of success, they were top 10 and they competed. ... Coaches believe that your second, third and fourth time in those positions it's easier to come through, and I think last year gave us a lot of momentum and it will help us this year."
WALSH'S RETURN: The early return of junior guard Matt Walsh Wednesday night caused some concern among the coaching staff. Coach Billy Donovan said he worried that some of the players accustomed to playing without Walsh might revert to secondary roles. Walsh tore ligaments in his left ankle on Dec. 30 and was expected to miss four to six weeks. He was cleared Tuesday by Florida's medical staff and played 13 minutes in the 83-76 overtime loss to Tennessee. Although the Gators were 3-0 in SEC play without Walsh, Donovan said he played him because the Gators don't play again until Jan. 25.
"He's not himself, but I felt like I wanted to play him because we've got a week before we play our next game and I thought he needed to get his feet wet a little bit," Donovan said.
PRACTICE TIME: With a seven-day span between games this week, women's basketball coach Carolyn Peck said she welcomed the opportunity to get in extra practice. Many coaches concede that once the conference season starts and teams play twice a week, it's often difficult to make adjustments and correct problems because practice time is focused on preparing for a game.
Florida hosts Mississippi at 3 p.m. Sunday, a game that marks the return of former coach Carol Ross.
LOCHTE HONORED: Olympian Ryan Lochte was named the SEC swimmer of the week on Wednesday after earning five individual and two relay victories at the Dallas Morning News Classic.
Lochte was named the outstanding swimmer at the event in which he was a member of the 800-yard freestyle relay team that broke a meet and pool record. He also broke the 200-yard backstroke meet and pool record my nearly two seconds (1:43.22) - second best time in the nation. Lochte holds the nation's best time in the 100-yard backstroke (46.72) and the 200-yard individual medley (1:43.81).
The men's swimming team, ranked No. 2 by the College Swimming Coaches Association of America, is scheduled to compete today in an SEC showdown against No. 3 Auburn. The No. 3 women's team will also compete against second-ranked Auburn, then again on Saturday against Alabama at 2 p.m.
Antonya English covers Florida athletics. She can be reached at 813 226-3389 or email@example.com