Gator women's hoops rallies around coach

Published: Wednesday, January 9, 2008 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Tuesday, January 8, 2008 at 6:27 p.m.

Florida's women's basketball practice facility has been a little quiet the past few days. That's because the Gators' fiery head coach, Amanda Butler, is not there.

"We can almost hear her," junior Marshae Dotson said. "When you're playing you feel like you can hear Coach Butler yelling even though she's not here."

The Gators were in Philadelphia late Friday night preparing to face Temple when Butler suddenly had to leave the team to be with her ailing, 93-year-old grandmother in Mt. Juliet, Tenn.

The Gators gathered in their locker room at Temple's Liacouras Center Saturday afternoon without their head coach. The team gathered and had an emotional pre-game meeting.

"We dedicated the game to her and her family," Dotson said. "We had to win that game for her."

Florida surged to a 13-1 lead and never looked back, winning its first road game by a 68-54 margin. Hours later, the woman Butler affectionately called, "MeeMaw" passed away.

"The only time tough Coach Butler gets soft is when she talks about MeeMaw," said assistant coach Susie Gardner, who acted as head coach for Saturday's game. "Some of the text messages, I could feel the pain, the hurt."

The funeral for Butler's grandmother was held Tuesday. Butler was then expected to travel to Lexington, Ken. today to join the Gators before Thursday night's SEC opener against the Wildcats.

The Gators' (11-4) thoughts have been with their head coach.

"It's a sad thing for what's going on in her life right now," sophomore point guard Lonnika Thompson said. "We try not to think about what's going on and just play hard on the court."

Junior Kim Critton said the Gators have been able to remain focused during this ordeal because that's what their coach would want.

"It's strange not having her around," Critton said. "But the family commitment that we have, things still go on. That's how she wants it to go. She wants us to continue to get better and focus on our opponents the way we're supposed to."

Critton said assistants Gardner, Brenda Mock Kirkpatrick and David Lowery have made up for Butler's intensity.

"We got three or four other coaches to do that (scream) for her when she's gone," Critton said. "We understand what she's going through right now and we're able to hold it down until she gets back."

Big-time women's tennis recruit enrolls

Florida women's tennis team was expecting to have a pretty decent spring season. Now, with the late signing of one of the nation's top prospects, the Gators might suddenly be thinking big.

Julia Cohen, who has been ranked as high as No. 4 in the ITF junior world rankings, has enrolled at UF for the spring semester and is eligible to play immediately. Cohen, a 5-foot-7 freshman from Philadelphia, competed in 12 junior grand slam events last year highlighted by reaching the finals of the Australian Open singles championship.

It is a major pick-up for coach Roland Thornqvist, who returns six players from last year's team that reached the NCAA quarterfinals. The Gators compete in the National College Classic, beginning Thursday in Las Vegas, before opening their home schedule Jan. 16 against Stetson.

This and that ...

Former Florida catcher Cody Neer has enrolled at Nebraska, according to the Lincoln Journal Star. Neer started 36 games behind the plate as a sophomore last season. He asked for a release from his scholarship after working with the Gators new coaching staff last fall. ... Former Gator soccer player Abby Wambach won the award for Best Goal, U.S. Soccer announced. Wambach won the award for her strike against Sweden in the FIFA Women's World Cup.

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