Thursday, May 14, 2009
For the second time in three years, Florida teams were shut out of the NCAA Division I Women’s Championship. Let that sink in for a minute.
Next week, the Sunshine State will be represented at Caves Valley by one player – Stephanie Connelly, a UCF senior who qualified out of the East Regional as an individual.
How is that possible?
“I don’t have an answer,” Florida State coach Debbie Dillman said.
The cumulative ranking for Florida’s five biggest programs (Florida, Florida State, UCF, USF, Miami) during the past 10 years: 49.56.
That number can’t be justified. It’s time for Florida schools to re-evalute.
Florida Athletic Director Jeremy Foley wasn’t satisfied after the Gators finished 16th on their own course at the East Regional and took immediate action.
“I’m stepping aside, doing what Jeremy would like, and because of that, I resigned,” said Jill Briles-Hinton, who announced her resignation May 11, two days after the East Regional. “It happens in college athletics.”
Foley is an AD interested in championship rings, as evidenced by the Gators’ football and basketball programs. He didn’t mince words.
“Our vision is that the women’s golf team is consistently among the contenders at the NCAA Championships,” Foley said in a statement. “That simply hasn’t happened, and now we begin a search for a coach that shares that vision.”
Actually, no Florida team has consistently contended for NCAA titles since Miami won five times from 1970 to 1983.
It’s mystifying that so many snow-covered schools fare better than Florida’s. No Florida school has finished inside the top five this decade. The University of Florida is the only school to crack the top 10, doing it five times since 2000. While it’s admirable to place well at NCAAs, Foley expects his school to contend – i.e., at least come close to winning it all.
Briles-Hinton tried to recruit big-name players who wanted to stay close to their David Leadbetter Academy instructors. She took several gambles and lost.
Mallory Code, a top-notch junior whose health problems kept her from having any sort of college career, recently came by to visit Briles-Hinton. Code was supposed to join Florida the same year as twins Aree and Naree Song. Naree played four tournaments for the Gators before dropping out, and Aree never showed up. Briles-Hinton referred to them as potentially “one of the best classes ever.”
“Or it could’ve been considered (Hurricane) Katrina,” Code said.
“I would do things differently, as far as get kids that are maybe not so high-profile,” Briles-Hinton concedes. “Sandra Gal was not a high-profile kid, and she got really good.”
Gal also turned pro in the middle of one of Florida’s best seasons in school history, but that’s another story.
Lela Cannon, the longtime Miami coach who recruited Briles-Hinton in the ’80s, said Florida schools no longer can rely on the weather advantage as so many programs have built state-of-the-art practice facilities. It’s an especially sore subject for Cannon, who has no facilities to speak of at Miami and might drive up to an hour in heavy traffic three times a week to get to practice.
Miami and Florida State had their No. 1 players fall ill with mononucleosis this spring. Miami played the ACC Championship with four players.
“I’m sure the University of Miami (officials) have not been happy the last few years that since Tina Miller (graduated in 2005), we haven’t been to regionals,” Cannon said. “That’s very important.”
There was speculation that Cannon, 70, might retire this year. The feisty coach said she’s never had a contract at Miami and hopes to be there next year.
“I’d like to leave the program in a good place,” she said.
Dillman agrees with Cannon, saying that Florida weather is no longer their “ace in the hole.” However, she also maintains that FSU’s practice facilities are among the nation’s best.
“My biggest hurdle is to get them here to look at what we have,” she said.
Let’s think about what lures a kid to a college to play golf.
Good weather – check.
Good facilities – check (with the exception of Miami).
High-profile football/basketball teams – check (though USF, not so much really).
Good schedule – check (especially Florida, FSU and UCF).
Coaches and teammates – personal preference.
It’s difficult to believe that weather no longer gives Florida an edge in recruiting. Here’s a sampling of teams ahead of No. 32 Florida, the state’s highest-ranked school: Virginia, Purdue, Denver, Arkansas, Kent State, Michigan State, Ohio State.
The ground freezes in those states.
When exactly did sunshine lose its cool?