The 2009-10 University of North Florida athletic season signaled a new era for the program and has the Ospreys looking forward to even greater success in the 2010-11 season. With the conclusion of the four-year reclassification period, UNF’s transition into full Division I competition provided all 17 athletic teams the opportunity to compete for championships and to participate in postseason events.
“I thought it was a tremendous year for us athletically,” said Lee Moon, UNF athletics director. “I am really excited that we had a team win a conference championship and two teams compete in NCAA tournaments this year. All of our sports competed at a high level. It was definitely a good start for us at the Division I level, and I look for us to be even more competitive this coming year.”
The Osprey’s first season of playing for championships included the women’s tennis team capturing the Atlantic Sun Conference title and automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament, along with the men’s golf team’s at-large invitation to the NCAA Golf Championship, where the Ospreys finished 14th.
In addition, the UNF women’s basketball team advanced to the A-Sun Tournament Championship game, falling one point short of upsetting top-seeded East Tennessee State University for the crown. The North Florida men’s basketball program, under the direction of first-year head coach Matthew Driscoll, increased its win total by five games, marking the third time in program history for such an improvement.
Along with significant team successes, several Osprey athletes and coaches enjoyed recognition for their accomplishments on the field. UNF boasted a pair of A-Sun Coach of the Year awards, with Scott Schroeder (men’s golf) and Rodrigo Puebla (women’s tennis) honored for their leadership. Beth Harrell earned the Coastal Collegiate Swimming Association’s Swimming Coach of the Year and Melisa Hyams grabbed the CCSA Diving Coach of the Year accolade.
North Florida produced two A-Sun Players of the Year in Sean Dale (men’s golf) and Aline Berkenbrock (women’s tennis) with Dale also earning PING second-team All-American honors. A quartet of A-Sun Freshmen-of-the-Year honorees competed for UNF: Kevin Phelan (men’s golf), Daniel Sotomarino (men’s tennis), Shelby Kittrell (women’s cross country) and Paige Pridgeon (volleyball). Overall, UNF boasted more than 30 all-conference, all-freshman and all-tournament selections in 2009-10. In addition, Phelan (U.S. Open participant/U.S. Amateur Public Links semifinalist) and Dale (Florida State Amateur champion/U.S. Amateur participant) each added major accomplishments outside of their collegiate competition.
“I think we’ve seen an increase and improvement in our recruiting efforts for all of our sports,” said Moon. “I believe that it is a direct result of being able to tell recruits that we can now play for championships and compete in NCAA Championship events. This definitely changes the caliber of student-athletes we are attracting to UNF and is evidenced by the honors our athletes have earned.”
Student-athlete success at North Florida was not limited to game competition. One hundred forty Osprey athletes garnered A-Sun All-Academic honors for their work in the classroom. Five UNF performers were further recognized earning ESPN the Magazine/CoSIDA Academic All-District III honors. Preston Hale, a baseball standout who also earned Academic All-American distinction, led a list that included Katelin Swift (women’s soccer), Lauren Maze (women’s soccer), Kurt Gattiker (men’s tennis) and John Atteo (baseball).
The marked improvement and commitment demonstrated by UNF athletes has done more than just draw the attention of those in college athletic circles, but also the Jacksonville community. From increased attendance figures and season ticket sales to a growing list of sponsorships, Osprey sports are becoming a hot commodity.
“We are definitely seeing an increased level of interest in donating to our department,” Moon said. “We enjoyed a successful season of promotional events last year, and the proof came in the fact that our game attendance and season ticket totals increased department-wide. We are looking to build on that momentum and add even more events to our schedule this season. Our fund-raising campaign is just getting started for this year and I feel like the sky is the limit. We have an unbelievable opportunity to capitalize on the commitment and work ethic of our coaches and student-athletes.”
As a young Division I program, UNF depends on fund raising and ticket sales to assist in the growth process, but another key element comes through money games that teams play on the road against more established programs. The men’s and women’s basketball programs at North Florida are looked upon to be the driving forces in that effort.
“The combination of money earned by our men’s and women’s basketball teams last season through our non-conference money games was in excess of $650,000 compared to just about $115,000 brought in two years ago,” Moon said. “That increased revenue allows us to reinvest a portion back into those programs allowing them to continue improving and developing. In the future, we would like to reduce the number of money games that each of our teams play, allowing us to schedule more home-and-home series and increase our home game and season ticket opportunities.”
UNF Athletics Media Relations staffers
Akil Burgen, Brian Morgan, April Goode and Chris Whitehead contributed to this report.