Gators savoring so many No. 1 teams
Published: Friday, March 7, 2014 at 6:54 p.m.
Last Modified: Friday, March 7, 2014 at 7:41 p.m.
One is no longer the loneliest number.
At least it's not at the University of Florida, where No. 1 has plenty of company at the moment.
Let's see, the UF men's basketball team is No. 1 in the nation. The softball team is No. 1. The men's swimming and diving team is No. 1. The women's indoor track and field team is No. 1. The men's indoor track and field team is No. 1.
That adds up to an astounding five Florida programs ranked first in the nation at the same time in what has been a tremendous start to 2014 for the overall UF athletic program.
"It's very, very unique (to have five teams ranked No. 1 in the nation at the same time)," said men's and women's track coach Mike Holloway, whose women's team won the SEC indoor championship last weekend, with the men taking second.
"I don't put a lot of stock in the rankings (during the season). But they show, one, you've worked hard, and, two, a lot of people recognize what you're doing."
What the Gators have been doing is a whole lot of winning — winning at a record pace.
Billy Donovan's basketball team has won 22 in a row and has the chance to become the first SEC program do go undefeated in an 18-game conference schedule with a win over No. 25 Kentucky today in the O'Connell Center.
The softball team is now 23-1 after losing its first game Friday night — a 2-0 loss to Ole Miss in UF's SEC opener.
The men's swimming and diving team won the SEC title two weeks ago. It was the Gators' second conference championship in a row and 35th in the program's history.
Both women's and men's indoor track teams are considered strong national title contenders going into the NCAA Indoor Championships next weekend.
Florida athletics are in the midst of a great run — and Florida students are savoring the success.
Friday night outside the O'Connell Center, UF students who bundled with blankets, sleeping bags and even a couple of Great Danes for warmth camped out to get choice tickets for today's Kentucky game.
Several of those camping out said the success of the Florida teams takes the sting out of a football season that they said was disappointing.
"It's really exciting and shows we are not a one-dimensional school. We are everything. Without question, it makes the football season a little easier to swallow," said Nicole Reed, a first-year law student who got her bachelor's at UF. "I came in the year after we won the last football national championship. I have a lot of hope for the basketball team. I think it is our best chance in a long time."
The cold, damp evening Friday was not much of a bother to freshman Dustin Smith, who returned from a spring break ski trip in Utah to camp out for basketball tickets. He said the success of the teams has boosted spirits on campus.
"Because we have so many teams that are so excellent, it really unifies the campus. With academics and exams, you can get caught up in stress, but when you have a chance to watch the teams, it's a really good stress reliever."
Smith was camping with friends Alanah Roberts and Zaina Sheets, who planned to watch the gymnastics team Friday night and who both predicted that the Gators will beat Kentucky today.
A circle of veterinary students were joined by two Great Danes, littermates Leroy and Dexter Zann, and a mutt at their encampment.
"This is awesome. This is what you hope for when you come to UF — to hopefully win a national championship and see the teams do well," said Alec Sherman, who got his undergrad degree at UF.
UF athletic director Jeremy Foley said he's working to keep the current success in perspective.
"We are certainly proud of the recognition any of our teams receive for being ranked No. 1 during the season, but we also realize that being No. 1 has no bearing on what will happen in the present or the future," Foley said. "Our coaches and student-athletes have always done a good job recognizing that."
Being ranked No. 1 during the season is all fine and good, and definitely enhances a program's national image. But the only poll that really matters is the final one, at the end of the season, Holloway said.
"If you're around us every day and know the coaches (of the five No. 1 teams), I don't think any of us are really hanging our hat on the No. 1 ranking," Holloway said. "We're all hard-working coaches who are very passionate about what we do — just like every coach at Florida.
"It's a by-product of Mr. Foley and the great support we have at the University of Florida. We are able to recruit elite athletes and great assistant coaches.
"Being No. 1 now is nice, but at the end of the day, it's all about where we're ranked at the end of next week when the (NCAA Indoor) meet is over with."
Florida's five current No. 1 programs are only part of UF's overall athletic success so far this year. The Gators have four other teams ranked in the top 10 nationally — gymnastics (No. 2), women's tennis (No. 2), lacrosse (No. 5) and women's swimming and diving (No. 9).
In all, UF has 12 teams currently ranked in the top 25 nationally.
Staff writer Cindy Swirko contributed to this report.