As 2022 comes to a close, we can’t help but look back at the year that was in Florida Gators athletics.
There were certainly highs and lows throughout the year. New coaches (Billy Napier and Todd Golden) took over the football and basketball programs and went through all the growing pains one might expect during a transition period, but Gators Wire is focusing on the good that happened in 2022 before the calendar turns over.
The baseball team made it to regionals, the women’s gymnastics team finished as runner-ups in the NCAA Championships, the tennis program took home an individual title, and track and field dominated all year.
It’s always great to be a Florida Gator, and 2022 was no exception. Sure, not every program reached the fan base’s lofty standards, but there was a lot to celebrate over the year.
As 2023 begins, let’s look back at the biggest moments for the athletic department over the last calendar year.
Feb. 19: Florida knocks off No. 2 Auburn in front of a sell out crowd
Florida basketball has entered a new era under Todd Golden, but one of the best moments of 2022 came while [autotag]Mike White[/autotag] was still at the helm of the program. The Gators staved off No. 2 Auburn in a hard-fought battle that kept NCAA Tournament hopes alive at the time, and they did so in front of a sold-out crowd.
The Rowdies always come to games with 110% energy, but it’s a different vibe when the O’Dome is sold out. Auburn learned that the hard way and Florida earned its signature win of the season.
March 5: Keyontae Johnson takes the floor one last time in Gainesville
Sometimes, basketball is more than just a game, and Florida’s senior night proved that. Over a year after collapsing on the court against Florida State, forward [autotag]Keyontae Johnson[/autotag] took the court for the Gators one final time. He’d served as a de facto assistant coach for all of the 2021-22 season, and the team made sure to give him one last moment in front of the Florida faithful.
The Gators won an honorary tip off and gave the ball directly to Johnson. He took in the moment before handing the ball to the ref, thanking players from teams on the court and kissing the hardwood. Johnson is now with Kansas State and playing once again, but his time in Orange and Blue will never be forgotten. What a beautiful ending to his difficult run in Gainesville.
May 17: Sterlin Thompson walks off against FSU
It doesn’t get much better than beating your in-state rival with a walk-off home run, and that’s exactly what [autotag]Sterlin Thompson[/autotag] did in May for the Florida Gators baseball team. UF and FSU had already split the first two games of the series and Thompson delivered the final blow in the ninth inning with two outs to secure a second win for the Gators. Talk about drama.
It comes as no surprise that Thompson was later selected 31st overall in the 2022 MLB draft, and there’s pretty good reason to believe he’ll deliver plenty more home runs in the thin air of Colorado throughout his professional career.
May 28: Ben Shelton wins NCAA men's singles championship
Florida tennis doesn’t get as much love as it should, but Ben Shelton deserves his roses after a historic year for the Gators. He became just the fourth player in school history to take home the singles crown, somewhat redeeming the program’s loss in the team championships a week prior.
Shelton turned pro after the conclusion of the season and will continue to make Gator Nation proud for years to come.
June 5: Carsten Finnvold pitches a nine-inning gem in relief
Where were you the day the legend of [autotag]Carsten Finnvold[/autotag] was born?
Florida had to dig deep just to field a starter in its fourth regional game of the weekend, and [autotag]Timmy Manning[/autotag] was pulled before he could even record an out. Kevin O’Sullivan turned to Finnvold in a desperation move after the freshman had shown promise in the SEC Tournament, and the former American Heritage-Del Ray lefty put together an all-time pitching performance in the Orange and Blue.
Finnvold pitched the rest of the game, securing the final 27 outs for the Gators while giving up just two runs in the sixth inning and allowing five hits on the day. He proved that it doesn’t take blow-away stuff to get the job done on the mound and struck out four with his elite breaking pitches. Florida’s season would end the next day, but that takes nothing away from Finnvold’s masterful performance.
June 6: Wyatt Langford ties program home run record with No. 26
Watching [autotag]Wyatt Langford[/autotag] swing the bat is like watching a master craftsman at work, and Florida fans were treated to a record-setting season by the catcher-turned-outfielder in 2022. At the beginning of the year, there were questions about whether he’d hold on to the left field spot, but no one was doubting his capabilities by the end of the season.
Langford hit home run No. 26 to tie Matt LaPorta’s school record on the final game of the season and is now considered one of the top collegiate prospects for next year’s MLB draft. Fans will get one more year of Langford in Gainesville, but he’s already etched his name into the school’s history books.
June 8-11: Florida takes home Men's and Women's Outdoor Track and Field Championships
Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports
Winning is always good, and boy, did Florida’s track and field program do some winning this year. In June, head coach Mike Holloway led both the men’s and women’s teams to outdoor championships, and we can’t forget about the women’s indoor championship in March either.
Holloway has turned Florida into one of the top colleges in the country on the track and may come as no surprise that the school extended his contract for another 10 years in August.
Sept. 3: The Billy Napier era starts off with a bang
Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports
Billy Napier’s first year in the Swamp wasn’t all good, but fans will always remember the euphoric sensation that swept across Gator Nation after knocking off No. 7 Utah to begin the 2022 season. The former Group of Five head coach passed his first test with flying colors and [autotag]Anthony Richardson[/autotag] seemed like a legitimate Heisman candidate, jump-passing for a two-point conversion when all hope seemed lost.
Of course, things would change over the remainder of the season, but for a brief moment, Florida football was back. [autotag]Amari Burney[/autotag] secured the win with a last-minute interception, and the party was on in Hogtown. Hopefully, there are more moments like this in 2023.
Nov. 4-12: Florida wallops Texas A&M and South Carolina
Matt Pendleton/Gainesville Sun
Perhaps the best stretch of the Gators’ football season came in November after the team fell to No. 1 Georgia, 42-20. After a tight first half against the Texas A&M Aggies in Week 10, Florida’s defense clamped down in the second half and didn’t allow a single point for the rest of the game.
That dominance continued against South Carolina in Week 11 when Florida extended its streak of keeping opponents out of the end zone to six straight quarters. Unfortunately, the team fell apart after that, losing to Vanderbilt and Florida State to close out the year, but it was a glorious two weeks of defensive dominance while things lasted.
Nov. 10: Gators flip 5-star QB Jaden Rashada from Miami
Matt Pendleton/Gainesville Sun
When Florida lost out to Miami in the recruiting race for [autotag]Jaden Rashada[/autotag], Gator Nation was dejected, to say the least. For nearly five months, the West Coast quarterback stayed committed to the Hurricanes, and Miami fans never missed a chance to rub the recruiting win in the face of Gators fans. That is until Rashada flipped to Florida on Nov. 10 and became the face of the Gators’ recruiting class.
Recruiting victories are always sweet, but this one felt different. Billy Napier got his guy and, perhaps more importantly, Miami lost their signal caller of the future. It will take a few years to see just how well the flip ages, but it’s hard to argue just how big of a moment it was for the new staff.