There were so many great senior athletes at the University of Florida that made a huge impact on the school in the 2017-18 athletics season. Our panel of Chris O’Brien, Mark Stine, Andrew Huang, Evan Lepak and Brendan Farrell gives you its nominations for Senior of the Year.
There were 12 University of Florida athletics teams that finished in the top five nationally…
Chris: We, at the alligatorSports section, still need to apologize to Caeleb Dressel for leaving him off our Athlete of the Year nominations a few weeks ago. But for now, let’s at least give him the Senior of the Year title that he deserves.
Not only was he easily the best male swimmer in the country, he was arguably the most dominant athlete in all the NCAA this past season.
During the NCAA Championships, he went 4 for 4, winning four titles in as many days. He won the 50-meter freestyle, 100-meter fly, the 200-meter FR and the 100-meter free.
In the 100 free, he became the first person at any level to finish below 40 seconds, touching the wall at 39.90.
Honestly, Dressel swims like a dolphin. He closed his career at Florida as one of the best swimmers, if not the best swimmer, in school history.
He now currently holds school records in eight different events and collected 28 All-America honors, which is the absolute maximum a swimmer can receive in his career.
His 10 national championships are the most in school history, surpassing Ryan Lochte (8) with his four titles this season.
Dressel was named the SEC Male Athlete of the Year, putting him in some elite company in Florida history. Since the award’s inception in 1976, only three other Gators have won the award – Danny Wuerffel, Tim Tebow and Lochte.
He already collected two gold medals at the 2016 Rio Olympic Games, and I promise you, that won’t be the last hardware he takes home.
Mark: Alex McMurtry is my Senior of the Year because aside from being a tremendous leader and example to her teammates, she literally achieved perfection in her final season at UF.
On January 26 against then-No. 1 Oklahoma, McMurtry helped the Gators to victory by registering 10.0s on vault and balance beam. With the perfect score on beam, she became the second Gator (Bridget Sloan) to complete the career “Gym Slam,” the achievement of earning a 10.0 in all four gymnastics events.
Her perfect mark in the vault against Oklahoma was actually the second of her career. The Midlothian, Virginia, native is the first UF gymnast to score two 10.0s in the same event. She also was NCAA co-champion in the vault in 2018.
Perhaps her greatest performance of the year was against Nebraska on March 9. McMurtry won every event - vault, beam, uneven bars, floor and all-around - and tied a school record in the all-around with a tally of 39.825. The last Gators to sweep all five events were Ashanee Dickerson in 2011, and Chrissy Van-Fleet in 2000.
In addition to her accolades in the gym, McMurtry has been successful pursuing a degree in applied physiology and kinesiology. She repeated as SEC Scholar Athlete of the Year in 2018 and earned Academic All-America honors each year she was eligible (2016-18).
Andrew: Let me start things off with a quote from Mary Wise, UF’s head volleyball coach, from last season: “I could coach 30 more years and never have a class like this.”
The 32-year veteran coach is referring to her 2017 senior class of Rhamat Alhassan, Carli Snyder, Shainah Joseph and Caroline “CK” Knop: an accumulation of star power so remarkable I couldn’t choose just one to nominate for Senior Athlete of the Year.
So here’s all of them.
Alhassan headlined the Fab Four-ange and Blue (email me if you have a better name, please). The 6-foot-4 middle blocker was a First Team All-American and the SEC Player of the Year thanks in large part to her NCAA-best 1.70 blocks per set. She set the all-time UF record for career blocks against Tennessee on Nov. 5 and finished her career with 674 blocks, well ahead of second-place Benavia Jenkins’ (2000-03) 601.
Snyder and Joseph, both outside hitters and Second Team All-Americans, had sensational senior seasons for different reasons.
Snyder ended a successful career with a bang. She led Florida in scoring and led the SEC with 0.49 service aces per set, a number good for seventh in the country.
Joseph developed into a key cog of the Gators’ rotation. She nearly doubled her offensive production over the second half of the season, bringing an extra level of firepower down the stretch that helped the team to a 30-2 record, as well as an SEC title and National Championship appearance.
And then there’s Knop. As UF’s libero, or defensive specialist, her potential to fill out the box score is limited, but her value on the court is not.
She led UF and was top-five in the SEC with 4.46 digs per game. Knop played her first two seasons at Michigan, but it’s how she finished her college career that really stands out.
Knop played the last month of the season despite nursing a broken right hand. That stretch includes a pair of clutch performances in back-to-back NCAA Tournament elimination games against USC and Stanford, helping catapult the Gators into their first NCAA title game since 2003.
Brendan: While MLB first-round picks Jonathan India, Brady Singer and Jackson Kowar get most of the attention, JJ Schwarz was the Gators’ backbone this past season and is worthy of Senior of the Year consideration.
With Schwarz in the lineup, Florida scored over seven runs per game, going 40-14 overall and 20-9 in SEC play. On the season, he batted .308 (second on the team), slugged 13 home runs (third-most on the team), knocked in 48 RBIs (third-most on the team) and boasted a .575 slugging percentage (second-best on the team). Schwarz also received First Team All-SEC and Third Team All-American honors.
But after the catcher/first baseman broke a bone in his hand on May 18, the Gators went 6-5 and managed only five runs per game without their senior catcher. Removing a 13-run effort against Columbia, the lowest-ranked team in the NCAA tournament, from that stretch, that number shrinks to a measly 3.7 runs per game.
Schwarz’s poise from four years of experience was most evident from behind the plate. UF’s pitching staff finished second in the SEC in ERA (3.46) and first in batting average against conference opponents (.234).
Schwarz leaves Florida with a bevy of school records, placing in the top 10 of 14 different categories.
But perhaps what makes him the quintessential senior Gator is the one school record in which he stands alone: games played. Over four years, he’s played in 266 games, breaking Preston Tucker’s record of 265 set in 2012.
Schwarz was an integral part of one of the most successful college baseball programs in the country for four years. Florida baseball won’t be the same without him.
Evan: In my opinion, Chris Chiozza deserves heavy consideration for UF’s Senior of the Year award. From a team standpoint, there’s no way Florida men’s basketball would’ve had much success last season without him.
The Gators’ point guard had incredible floor vision, and he often dazzled with his crisp passes into tight windows. He wasn’t wild with the ball either. His 3.41 assist-to-turnover ratio was good for fifth-best in the country.
Chiozza would go on to finish his career as the school’s all-time leader in assists (571) breaking Erving Walker’s former record of 547.
He was also awarded a spot on both the All-SEC First Team, as well as the SEC All-Defensive team in his senior season. His defensive intensity was often overlooked due to his offensive prowess, but if you watched his game-winning steal-and-score against Missouri, then you’d understand just how good he was on the defensive side of the ball.
Lastly, the guy was such a competitor. He averaged 32 minutes per game, the most on the team.
Chris Chiozza was the epitome of a senior leader for his team and deserves strong recognition for what he did last season.