Hat Trick (noun): Three successes of the same kind, especially consecutive ones within a limited period.
Historic (adjective): Famous or important in history; having great and lasting importance.
I list the definitions not because anyone needs a refresher, but to remind us all of just how significant this past Sunday was for the Florida Gators’ athletics program. Not for any special recognition Florida will get for turning the trick, mind you. And not because Gator fans will remember the hat trick for many years to come as a monument to greatness. But because we should.
The Southeastern Conference was founded in early December, 1932. Between the tip-off of the first SEC basketball game that winter to the moment when Brianna Morgan placed a perfect drop shot over the net to win the women’s SEC tennis tournament Sunday, in 84 years of competition, there have been a total of 1,335 SEC regular season titles, SEC tournament titles, and other conference and tournament titles won or shared by 16 different SEC schools. In all that time, with all those sports and all those seasons converging upon each other every year, only once in the history of the conference has any school ever won three conference titles on the same day. That is until that last shot floated softly over the net in Baton Rouge. Now it has happened twice.
Ask Georgia fans where they were on April 22, 2001. It’s likely they will think you are referring to D-Day or when the Germans attacked Pearl Harbor or maybe the night the lights went out in Georgia (a fictional event based on a song by the star of “Mama’s Family”, the anchor program for decades on TBS). They’re slow that way. Whatever they imagine you are asking them about, it is highly doubtful any of them will say they remember where they were when the Bulldogs won the conference tournaments in men’s tennis and men’s and women’s golf all in the same day. Though they live in the land of Augusta National, they are not as fluent in their college golf as they are at barking like a rabid dog between two shrubberies. But that was the first and only time in the 84 year conference history that any school had won any three conference titles on the same day.
Now the Gators had come close a couple of times prior to that, winning the men’s and women’s swimming & diving title on the same day, just a week away from winning the women’s indoor track and field title. They did that in 1990 and then again in 1992. And the Gators came close a couple of times since then. In 2011, they won both tennis tournament titles on the same day, nine days after winning the lacrosse championship; and in 2013 they won lacrosse, women’s tennis, and the women’s tennis tournament within one week (although it would have been quite another trick to win the regular season and tournament titles in tennis on the same day).
But the perfect storm finally came together for the Gators on Sunday. It all started four minutes shy of 2:00 Sunday afternoon when despite giving up four goals in the final 1:51 of the game, the #2-ranked ladies’ lacrosse team pocketed a 13-8 win over 12-2 Connecticut to lock down the program’s sixth conference title in its first seven years of existence (four in the American Lacrosse Conference, the last two in the Big East). Forty minutes later, Gordon Watson came back from 40-15 in the ninth game of the third set of #5 singles, slamming a deep corner forehand that could only be weakly returned into the net to hand Georgia their only conference loss of the year and hand Florida its fifth SEC tournament title in program history. About 25 minutes later, women’s tennis closed out the hat trick and put Florida in rarest of company, on storied ground.
Not that anyone has ever written a story about the amazing hat trick until this week. But we Gators take our sports – especially our spring sports – a lot more seriously than the Georgia fans and media. So drink it in, fellow Gators, because you’ve never seen anything like this before, and neither has anyone in the SEC except Georgia fans (not that many of them were aware of it). And it’s unlikely that any of us will ever see this again.
Or is it? You don’t even want to know how much new research had to be done to verify that this has only been done once in SEC history – even with my already Library of Congress-sized databases on hand – but one thing that happens when you do a ton of research: you find out a lot of cool stuff you weren’t even looking for. One of those unexpected data streams was that in the 84 years if playing sports, and 37 years since adding women’s sports to the mix (thus jacking the odds of multiple title-winning days), in addition to the two times the hat trick has been turned, only ten other times has a school come even remotely close. And of those times, twice were in the ‘80s, four times were in the ‘90s, one was in the ‘00s, and three of them were in the last five years – all of those three by Florida. The Gators came close in 2011, 2013 and 2015 before finally turning the trick this year. In fact, of those ten other times that were close, seven of them were flirtations by the Gators (Tennessee and Georgia came close once each). So the odds of seeing your school pull off this tricky triple again seems to be increasing quickly this decade…if your school is Florida, that is.
Another thing that really jumped out at me is how incredibly dominant Florida Gators athletics are. To start whittling down possible same-day conference title wins, I first had to group all of the titles by year. Many of the official SEC title totals are likely familiar to the more statistically oriented Gator fans, but adding on the conference tournaments that do not decide the official conference title for the year delivers totals that are not familiar to even the most diligent trackers of the SEC All-Sports Trophy and the Capital One Cup. When adding up the numbers, the Gator dominance jumps off the page. When you look at schools that won more than five titles in the same year, you get six schools: Florida, Tennessee, Georgia, Arkansas, LSU and Auburn. Florida has bagged five or more titles in the same year 26 times. The other five schools have done it 25 times combined. Tennessee did it the next-most times with just eight. Florida is the only school to ever win ten conference titles (including tournament titles) in the same year, and they’ve done it four times. They have won nine or more in the same stanza eight times; only Georgia has ever won nine in one year, and they did it just once. Florida has won eight or more in one season eleven times; the rest of the SEC only one team, one time, ever.
I am thinking we might want to hold onto this Jeremy Foley guy for a little while.