The eighth and final Regional on the left half of the 256 player #GreatestGatorEver tournament is set to get started tonight. Another way of putting that: after tonight’s 12 Regional voting, we will officially be halfway done with the opening round of this summer long tournament. But as always, before we get to voting, let’s remind ourselves of who’s in this Regional, and why they’re in this tournament.
(Players are listed in order they appear on the bracket.)
(1) Abby Wambach (soccer, F- 1998-2001). (Oh, boy. Clear an hour for this.) Florida’s all time leading career goal scorer (96). Clutch factor: 24 game-winning goals at Florida. 1998 SEC Freshman of the Year and freshman All-American. 1998 national champion. 3X unanimous first team All-American: 1999, 2000, 2001. 6X US Soccer Athlete of the Year Award: 2003, 2004, 2007, 2010, 2011, 2013. 2012 FIFA World Player of the Year Award. 184 career international goals; most in US history and second most worldwide among women. 2004 (Athens), 2008 (Beijing)* and 2012 (London) Olympic gold medalist with Team USA. 2003 and 2007 FIFA Women’s World Cup bronze medalist, 2011 FIFA Women’s World Cup silver medalist and 2015 FIFA Women’s World Cup gold medalist with Team USA. 2011 FIFA World Cup Silver Ball and Bronze Boot Award winner.
(16) Sammi Burgess (lacrosse, A- 2014-17). Florida’s single season assists leader (45, 2017). Second all time at Florida with 86 career assists; seventh all time with 227 career points. 2014 All-ALC and ALC Rookie of the Year selection. 2016 and 2017 All-American.
(8) Dallas Baker (football, WR- 2003-06). Clutch factor: game winning 25 yard touchdown catch to beat FSU in 2006. 2006 national champion. 2006 team captain. 2006 first team All-SEC. Three year NFL career with Steelers. Super Bowl XLIII champion with Steelers.
(8) Lindsey Ronbeck (lacrosse, A- 2016-19). Florida’s all time single season points record holder (107 in 2019). Florida’s all time single game goal scoring record holder (nine, vs. Cincinnati in 2019). Second all time in total points (313). 2016 Big East Rookie of the Year. 2018 and 2019 All-American.
(4) Jevon Kearse (football, DE- 1995-98). 1996 national champion. 1996 SEC all-freshman team selection. 1997 and 1998 All-SEC selection. 1998 SEC Player of the Year. 1998 first team All-American. Eleventh all time at Florida with 34.5 TFL. First round NFL Draft pick (#16 overall, Titans). Eleven year NFL career with Titans and Eagles; recorded 74 sacks and forced 26 fumbles. 3X Pro Bowl selection: 1999, 2000 and 2001.
(13) Michelle Freeman (track- 1989-92). 1992 NCAA team champion. 1992 NCAA individual 4X400m relay champion. 8X event All-American. 1996 (Atlanta) Olympic 4X100m relay bronze medalist (Team Jamaica).
(5) Kelly Murphy (volleyball, opposite spiker- 2008-11). First 4X All-American in Florida history, 2008-2011; 2010 and 2011 first team All-American. 2010 SEC Player of the Year. Ninth all time at Florida with 1,306 career kills; tenth all time with 2,671 assists. 2014 World Championship gold medalist; 2016 (Rio de Janeiro) Olympic bronze medalist (Team USA).
(12) John Reaves (football, QB- 1969-71). 1971 first team All-American. 1971 team captain. 1971 Sammy Baugh Trophy Award winner. Seventh all time in Florida history 7,549 career passing yards; eighth with 54 passing touchdowns. First round NFL Draft pick (#14 overall, Eagles). Ten year NFL career with four teams.
(6) Major Wright (football, S- 2007-09). Clutch factor: broke up deep pass in 2009 BCS Championship Game against Oklahoma. 2008 national champion. Seven year NFL career with Bears and Buccaneers.
(11) Kayli Kvistad (softball, 1B- 2015-18). 2015 national champion. 2016 and 2017 All-American. Second all time at Florida with .492 on base percentage; sixth all time with 193 RBI; ninth all time with .991 fielding percentage.
(3) Lee Humphrey (basketball, G- 2004-07). 2006 and 2007 national champion and Final Four all-tournament team. NCAA Tournament record 47 career made three pointers. Second all time at Florida with 288 career made three point FG with 288; third all time with .444% three point FG %; 49th all time with 1,080 points scored. Ended his career with at least one made three in his last 39 games.
(14) Chris Rainey (football, RB- 2007-11 AND track, 2008, 2010). FOOTBALL: 2008 national champion. 10th all time at Florida with 2,464 career rushing yards. 2011 first team All-SEC. TRACK: 2X All-American: 2008, 2010. 2010 individual 4X100m relay national champion.
(7) Michael Byrne (baseball, P- 2016-18). 2017 and 2018 consensus first team All-American. 2017 national champion. Florida’s all time career leader in saves (35) and ERA** (1.88). Florida’s single season saves leader (19 in 2017). 2018 NCBWA Stopper of the Year Award winner. Clutch factor: Byrne saved three of Florida’s five wins in the 2017 CWS.
(10) Dale Van Sickel (primarily football, 1927-29; also basketball and baseball). 1928 (first team) and 1929 All-American. College Football Hall of Fame member. Only Florida Gator athlete to be named captain of football, basketball and baseball teams in same academic year (1928-29) and receive All-American recognition in back to back years on one of them.
(2) Errict Rhett (football, RB- 1990-93). 1993 first team All-American. 1993 team captain. 1994 Sugar Bowl MVP. Florida’s all time rushing leader with 4,163 yards. Third all time at Florida with 34 career rushing touchdowns. Seven year NFL career with Buccaneers, Ravens and Browns.
(15) KeVaughn Allen (basketball, G- 2015-18). 2016 All-SEC. Florida’s all time leader with 87.8% career free throw percentage. Sixth all time in Florida history with 1,723 career points.
(Note: “national champion” labels are only attributed to starters or critical backups/role players on the team.)
*Wambach was named to the 2008 Olympic team but did not play due to an injury.
**Since 1974, when college baseball switched to aluminum bats.
The favorite: (1)Abby Wambach
It’s got to be Wambach, right? A national championship and three years of All-American honors in college complemented by arguably the greatest women’s international soccer career of all time has made Wambach’s name recognized well beyond the Gainesville city limits. Rhett could make things interesting in the Regional final, but it would take a shocker for him- or anybody else- to knock her out of this bracket.
The second favorite: (2)Errict Rhett
There’s one thing that works in Rhett’s favor: he is a major statistical category leader in the Gators’ most popular sport. That may be enough to propel him out of the Regional and into the Sweet 16, but let’s reiterate: he is a very distant second favorite. Maybe if he’d led Florida to a national championship, this matchup would be more even on paper (though if he had, he would have likely been a top eight overall seed), but since that isn’t the case, this is Wambach’s Regional to lose.
The sleeper: (3)Lee Humphrey
It’s only fitting for Humphrey to get a three by his name since he routinely added that many points to Florida’s side of the scoreboard during his career. The pro success wasn’t there for him, but his college career was so unforgettable that it just might be enough for him to take out both Rhett and Wambach. As is the case with Rhett, there’s some distance between him and Wambach on paper, but if he can overcome Rhett in the Regional semifinals, he could make things very interesting in the Regional final if the basketball community shows up for him.
The dark horse: (4)Jevon Kearse
“The Freak,” as he was called, is going to have an uphill battle in this tournament with Wambach on his half of the bracket. But while he may be the underdog, a hat trick of Pro Bowl appearances could translate into just enough fans justifying tapping his name on the poll in that potential Round of 64 matchup against Wambach that he pulls it off. And if he does, he could go a lot further since he had a much better pro career than both Rhett and Humphrey on the other half of the bracket.
The Cinderella candidate: (7)Michael Byrne
Byrne was to Florida baseball what Mariano Rivera was to the Yankees’ dynasty a quarter century ago (except, you know, he only played three years). Not only is Byrne the Gators’ all time saves leader by far, he was at his best when it mattered most. His three saves and seven innings of shutout relief work in the 2017 College World Series powered Florida to its first ever national championship, and he also kept Auburn at bay with four more innings of shutout ball in Game 3 of the 2018 Super Regional. Rhett has better overall sheer numbers, but fans remember clutch, too. It wouldn’t be my predicted result, but if he wins his first round matchup against Dale Van Sickel, he automatically places Rhett on upset alert in the Round of 128.