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We have officially crossed over into the new year, leaving behind a tumultuous 2021 while heading into a hopefully more optimistic 2022. While the sports world bounced back from the effects of COVID the year prior, the pandemic still continued to plague many aspects of life, hardly giving any sense of a return to normalcy.
It was a pretty tough year for the University of Florida as well, as I laid out in an opinion column back in early November. Aside from all of the political issues the institution dealt with, the athletic program saw the loss of the legendary soccer coach Becky Burleigh to the pros, the dismissal of its women’s basketball head coach Cam Newbauer amidst accusations of abuse from his players, and of course, the grand finale of head football coach Dan Mullen getting sacked.
But it was not all bad.
Florida still remains the preeminent school for collegiate athletics and had plenty of memories to celebrate as well. Here is a look at the Gators Wire staff’s favorite moments from 2021.
Adam Dubbin - Managing Editor
AP Photo/John Minchillo
For me, it has to be the men’s tennis team and individual national championships, the latter earned by junior (at the time) Sam Riffice. It was the first time in school history that the team title had been won and came a season after opening play ranked No. 1.
Much like the year prior — which was ultimately canceled due to the first wave of the COVID pandemic — Florida stumbled against the Texas Longhorns early on but then went on a tear afterward, only losing to the Tennessee Volunteers over the remaining regular season. Then its magical run through the NCAAs sealed the deal on the best season ever played in the Alfred A. Ring Tennis Complex.
Tyler Nettuno - Assistant Editor/Writer
Syndication: Gainesville Sun
It wasn’t exactly a year full of memorable moments for Florida’s sports teams, aside from the tennis national title that Adam mentioned. However, one that stands out to me comes from the very beginning of the calendar year when UF basketball defeated the No. 6 Volunteers at the O’Dome in blowout fashion with a 75-49 win back in January.
What made the victory even more impressive was the fact that it came without Colin Castleton available, as he was placed in health and safety protocol ahead of the game. In his absence, Noah Locke, Tre Mann, Tyree Appleby and Ques Glover each scored in double figures in a game that was won thanks to backcourt shooting.
UF didn’t really capitalize, unfortunately, limping into the NCAA Tournament and losing in the second round to 15-seeded Oral Roberts. But coach Mike White seems to be good for at least one stunning upset each season, and this year’s was certainly a lot of fun to watch.
Matt Pendleton-USA TODAY Sports
My favorite moment of 2021 was the FSU basketball game and it wasn’t close. It meant so much to Keyontae Johnson, to Mike White, to the fans, to the Rowdies. You just wanted to hug everybody. There weren’t that many moments like that this year.
Brad McClenny/The Gainesville Sun
There isn’t a more likable player on the team than Pierce, and he proved that time and time again throughout the year as he stood at the podium taking questions following a Gators win or loss. Pierce didn’t get the share of carries he probably deserved this season, but he never complained. He didn’t hit double-digit carries in a game until facing FSU in the season finale, and he made every one of those count against the Gators’ in-state rival.
Fans and media praised him for his grit, and it’s nice to see a senior who always played hard get the recognition he deserves before leaving.