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Friday, May 20, 2022
<p><span id="docs-internal-guid-3a6012c5-7fff-2157-cd45-ea4a9af68dde"><span>Trinity Thomas won six SEC Freshman of the Week awards and three SEC Gymnast of the Week awards during her freshman campaign at UF.</span></span></p>

Trinity Thomas won six SEC Freshman of the Week awards and three SEC Gymnast of the Week awards during her freshman campaign at UF.

Freshmen have everything to prove.

Perhaps they were at the top of their game in high school. Perhaps they’re trying to stand out amid a sea of better recruits. Perhaps they’ve walked on to the team and are starting from the base. Regardless of how they begin, though, they all seek to show the world that they can hang with the veterans and contribute to their team.

Some freshmen, however, hit heights that others do not. They stand out not only at their class level, but among every athlete in their respective sport.

UF had a few of these freshmen last year, but our writers have narrowed down the field for the alligatorSports Freshman of the Year to four: Andrew Nembhard, Trinity Thomas, Evan McPherson and Sam Riffice.

 

Andrew Nembhard

 

The UF men’s basketball team leaned heavily on its core of freshmen throughout the 2018-19 campaign. Guard Noah Locke and forward Keyontae Johnson played valuable minutes for coach Mike White, but neither had as much of an impact as guard Andrew Nembhard in his first season at Florida.

Nembhard was the only Gator to start every game, playing a team-high 32.9 minutes per game and averaging eight points, 5.4 assists and 2.9 rebounds. His 194 assists were the fourth-most in a season in program history and second-most by a freshman.

The newcomer’s biggest moment of the season came in the SEC Tournament quarterfinals. With the game tied 73-73, Nembhard converted a three-pointer with a second remaining to defeat top-seeded LSU and secure a trip to the NCAA Tournament.

Nembhard’s durability, consistency and big-play ability earned him a spot on the 2019 SEC All-Freshman Team and should also earn him alligatorSports Freshman of the Year. – Bryan Matamoros

 

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@bryan_2712

bmatamoros@alligator.org

 

Trinity Thomas

 

Most freshmen arrive on campus with hopes of earning a starting roster spot. Highly touted recruits try to make an instant impact and become a leader on their respective teams. Trinity Thomas sought to dominate.

The first-year Pennsylvania native had long been one of the most elite junior gymnasts in the country, having been a member of U.S. Senior National Teams from 2016 to 2019. She had won hardware on four different continents while representing USA Gymnastics on an international stage.

With an elite pedigree and national team experience, Thomas entered the NCAA ranks levels above her peers. It showed.

Thomas was brilliant all year, the only freshman to rank among the nation’s top 20 in every event: fifth in all-around, tied for second in floor, fourth in uneven bars, 14th on balance beam and 17th on vault.

Throughout the course of the season, Thomas earned SEC Freshman of the Week six times and SEC Gymnast of the Week three times, becoming the first gymnast in conference history to earn a weekly honor after each competition.

At season’s end, Thomas was a five-time All-American, the 2019 SEC vault champion and the 2019 SEC Freshman of the Year. Though her team massively underperformed in the postseason, Thomas’ first year in orange and blue goes down as arguably one of the best ever.

Not since Gator-great Bridget Sloan (2013-16) has Florida seen such a torrential first-year campaign, which is why Thomas needs to be alligatorSports Freshman of the Year. – Jack Braverman

 

@jack_braverman

jbraverman@alligator.org

 

Evan McPherson

 

Sometimes the ones most overlooked are the ones that can make the biggest impact on the field. Last season, Florida kicker Evan McPherson shined as a freshman, hitting 17 of his 19 attempted field goals – arguably 18 of 19 if you include an erroneous call at Kentucky – and going a perfect 50 for 50 on extra points. His 85.9 field goal percentage led the way for freshman kickers, and he was a key factor in UF’s victories over Mississippi State (two field goals in a 13-6 win) and Vanderbilt (three field goals in a 37-27 win).

McPherson also showcased his strong leg on kickoffs during his first college season. The freshman averaged 64.1 yards a kick and had a 55 percent touchback percentage. His efforts earned him two SEC Freshman of the Week awards and landed him on the semifinalist list of the Lou Garza award (the nation’s top placekicker). 

The No. 1-rated kicker from the 2018 class proved his value early, contributing greatly to UF’s 2018 turnaround season. Because of that, I believe he deserves to be the alligatorSports Freshman of the Year. – Evan Lepak

 

@evanmplepak

elepak@alligator.org

 

Sam Riffice

 

It’s always difficult to pick the best freshman among the plethora of Gators sports. There’s so much talent, so many great stats and tons of great players to rake through to choose a deserving winner. While there are many qualified freshman for alligatorSports Freshman of the Year, the definite choice is tennis star Sam Riffice.

Riffice had a historically impactful season on the court. He went 26-11 in overall singles and went 10-0 in SEC singles. In doubles he went 20-6 with a 6-3 SEC doubles record. 

If his standout stats don’t make you believe he should be freshman of the year, his accolades should.

Even as a freshman, Riffice was elected as a team captain among his peers. The leader of the Florida tennis team also picked up an SEC Freshman of the Year nod, was named to the 2019 SEC All-Freshman team and 2019 Second-Team All-SEC, was the 2019 ITA Freshman of the Year and was a two-time SEC Freshman of the Week. 

Riffice’s skill and polish was on full display in the 2019 NCAA Singles Championships. He took down No. 2 ranked JJ Wolf of Ohio State in the round of 16. His Elite 8 finish was the best for a freshman this year. 

Riffice’s stats, accolades and standing among his peers are why he is the alligatorSports Freshman of the Year. – Dylan O’Shea

 

@dylanoshea24

doshea@alligator.org

 

Trinity Thomas won six SEC Freshman of the Week awards and three SEC Gymnast of the Week awards during her freshman campaign at UF.

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