New signees for Gator swimming

GAINESVILLE, Fla. * University of Florida head men’s swimming and diving coach Gregg Troy announced Monday that Joey Pedraza (Ft. Lauderdale, Fla./Pine Crest Prep), Bobby Walsh (Virginia Beach, Va./Ocean Lakes) and Grayson Patten (West Palm Beach, Fla./Benjamin) have joined the Gators’ 2007-08 signing class and will begin competing for UF next season.

One of the most sought after swimmers in his class, Pedraza was a two-time South Florida Sun-Sentinel Swimmer of the Year selection while at Pine Crest Prep, where he won seven high school state titles (four individual events and three relays). As a senior, he broke former UF standout Matt Cetlinski’s record in the 500 free, which was the oldest on the Florida high school books, with a state championship-winning time of 4:23.48. He also captured the state’s 200 individual medley crown in his final prep campaign.

At the 2007 U.S. Spring Nationals in Long Island, N.Y., Pedraza finished sixth and eighth, respectively, in the 400-meter free (3:58.80) and the 1,500-meter free (15:43.65), earning Olympic Trials cuts in both events. He also swam to a 12th-place showing in the 800-meter free (8:21.19), while helping Pine Crest take third in the 800-meter FR with a second-leg split of 1:54.78. Pedraza, who won the 2005 International Swimming Hall of Fame Ocean Mile in his first attempt at open water swimming, has also been a top-eight finisher at the U.S. Open Water Nationals twice. He will be reunited on the Florida roster with former club teammate Bradley Ally (Ft. Lauderdale, Fla.), a rising junior with 12 All-America honors to his credit.

“Signing Joey was a really big move for our team because he is one of the top-five distance swimmers in his class,” Troy said. “He’s a heard worker with a great attitude, and his accomplishments speak for themselves. I don’t expect anything less than a full effort out of him from the moment he steps into our program. Joey is going to be a factor for us right away.”

A high school All-American in the 200 IM, the versatile Walsh won four district and regional championships in the event during his prep career at Ocean Lakes. He is a Junior National qualifier in both the 200-meter and 400-meter IM, and placed seventh in the 200-meter race at the 2005 Southeast Asian Games. Walsh was also a member of the Philippines’ squad at the first-ever FINA Youth World Championships in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, in August of 2006. He will join his brother, rising senior J.B. Walsh, on the Gators’ roster next season.

“Bobby has a lot of untapped talent,” Troy said. “He’s got a great work ethic, and he has the potential to step in right away for us in the 200 IM. With his brother on the team, he knows what it takes to be a Gator, and he’s excited about the opportunity.”

Patten, a 2006 Palm Beach Post second-team all-area selection, brings a wealth of success to the Florida diving team. He qualified for the state diving championships in each of his four high school seasons, and finished fourth at the state meet in 2006. He placed in the top-four at high school regionals four years in a row, and earned runner-up honors at the Florida County meet in both 2005 and 2006. He also qualified for the Junior Olympic East National meet in 2004.

“Grayson really wanted to come to Florida, and we were happy to make that happen,” UF diving coach Donnie Craine said. “He’s a talented and energetic kid who comes with high praise from his coaches. He’s got a desire and willingness to learn and get better that will serve him well on the college level.”

The Gators’ most recent trio of signees will join a signing class that already included standouts Michael Joyce (Sewell, N.J./St. Augustine Prep), Mathew Norton (Port Orange, Fla./Spruce Creek) and Logan Storie (Corvallis, Ore./Corvallis), who all signed National Letters of Intent last fall.

Joyce owns high school All-America honors in the 100 back, 200 individual medley, 400 free relay and 200 medley relay, in addition to earning USA Swimming Scholastic All-America recognition. He is a 2006 Junior National qualifier in the 100 back, 200 back, 200 IM and 400 IM, and also qualified for the 2006 U.S. Senior Nationals. Joyce led St. Augustine Prep to back-to-back state championships and captured a state title in the 200 medley relay en route to being named 2006 South Jersey High School Swimmer of the Year and garnering All-South Jersey accolades. He has also been a qualifier for the IM Xtreme Challenge in Colorado Springs, Colo.

“Michael is a little bit of a sleeper,” Troy said. “He’s got a lot of raw talent and comes highly recommended from his coaches in New Jersey. He’s got great ability in the 400 IM that will be a benefit for our team.”

Norton will come to Gainesville from Spruce Creek High School, the same school as current UF sophomore Rex Tullius (Port Orange, Fla.), where he won state championships in the 200 free, 500 free and 200 IM. At the 2006 Speedo Southern Sectional meet, he placed 12th in the 100-meter fly (58.13), and added a 17th-place showing in the 100-meter free (54.02). Norton swam for former Florida standout Ryan Lochte’s father, Steve Lochte, on the Daytona Beach Speed club.

“Mathew comes with great praise from Ryan Lochte’s father,” Troy said. “He stands about 6-7, so he’s a really big kid on the blocks. One of the best things about Mathew is that he is a very versatile athlete who can help us out in a lot of different areas.”

A member of the 2006 National Junior Team and a 2008 Olympic Trials qualifier in the 200-meter, 400-meter and 1,500-meter free, Storie finished his high school career with two Oregon state titles in the 500 free and one in the 200 free. In 2006, Storie took sixth in the 1,500-meter free, eighth in the 800-meter free and 11th in the 400-meter free at the USS Spring Nationals, while also placing ninth in the 5K swim at the Open Water Nationals and 14th in the 1,500-meter race at the U.S. Summer Nationals. He also owns a 10th-place finish in the 1,500-meter free at the 2005 U.S. Nationals. In addition to his exploits in the water, Storie also served as Oregon’s athlete representative to the USS National Convention twice and was a state qualifier in cross country.

“Logan is one of the best high-school distance freestylers in the country,” Troy said. “He’s extremely versatile, and his background in track and cross country shows that he is a really good athlete. His level of versatility coming out of high school reminds me of Ryan Lochte when he came to Florida.”

Women’s Swimming And Diving Signs Two More For 2007-08

GAINESVILLE, Fla. * University of Florida head women’s swimming and diving coach Gregg Troy announced on Monday that Rebekah Epley (Russellville, Ky./The Bolles School) and Madison Parker (Biloxi, Miss./The Education Center School) have signed agreements to join the Gators for the 2007-08 campaign.

Epley is a nine-time All-American who helped lead Bolles to its 16th-consecutive team state championship in 2006. She was a member of the school’s 200 FR squad that posted a state-record time of 1:34.53 en route to claiming the FHSAA crown, while also claiming individual runner-up honors in the 100 fly at the state meet. In 2005, Epley won the Kentucky state title in the 100 fly. She finished 27th in the 100-meter fly (1:03.83) at the U.S. Spring Nationals in Long Island, N.Y., where she also competed in the 100-meter back, 200-meter back and 100-meter fly.

“Rebekah has some good natural speed that will help us in the sprint fly and back events,” Troy said. “It’s always nice to bring someone from Bolles into your program, because they know the meaning of hard work and dedication. Rebekah should be able to step in and help us right away in the shorter stroke events.”

A Top 16 performer in both the 800-meter free and the 1,500-meter free in 2006, Parker has a history of success on both the national and state levels. A member of Bolles’ 2004 and 2005 state championship teams, she helped the team to a third-place finish in the 800-meter FR at the 2006 Summer Junior Nationals. She also produced a ninth-place showing in the 800-free at that meet, clocking in at 8:53.96. She competed in the 200-meter, 400-meter and 800-meter free at the U.S. Spring Nationals, and owns Senior National Cuts in the 400-meter, 800-meter and 1,500-meter free events.

“Madison is one of the best distance freestylers in her class, and we’re extremely excited that she chose to attend Florida,” Troy said. “She’ll step in right away and provide us with another weapon in the distance events. She’s a pleasure in and out of the water, and our entire staff is looking forward to working with her in the years to come.”

The duo of Epley and Parker join a recruiting class that already includes three swimmers and a diver who signed National Letters of Intent during the fall. Florida products Julianne Lago (Miami, Fla./Gulliver Prep) and Sarah Sykes (Jacksonville, Fla./The Bolles School), as well as Monica Dodson (Franklin, Ind./Whiteland Community) and Molly Houlton (Tuscon, Ariz./Catalina Foothills), highlighted the early signing class.

A senior at Gulliver Prep High School, Lago holds four individual state titles, including two in the 100-yard butterfly and two in the 100-yard backstroke. Her time of 54.51 in the 100 fly stands as a state record in Florida, and she is also the Southern Zone record holder in the 100-meter fly. A four-time All-American, Lago has earned All-Dade honors for five-straight years, claimed the Junior National Championship in the 50-yard and 100-yard fly, and holds the junior national record in the 50 fly with a time of 24.50. Lago will join her older sister, Jenny, on next year’s squad.

“Julianne has a tremendous amount of natural speed. She will fill a large gap for us next year,” Troy said.

Sykes, a two-time Olympic Trial qualifier and two-time sectional champion, has earned both short and long-course Florida Swimming Swimmer of the Year honors during her high school career at The Bolles School, where Troy made a coaching stop from 1977-97. A National High School All-American, Sykes has been named to the Florida High School All-State, All-District and All-Regional teams. In addition, she earned The Bolles School Van Etten Bent Award for outstanding contribution to athletics, and is an 11-time National Qualifier.

“Sarah is hands-down one of the best distance freestylers in the state of Florida,” Troy said. “She has wanted to be a Gator for quite some time, and we’ve been watching her. She’s going to make an excellent addition to next year’s lineup.”

A native of Franklin, Ind., native Dodson brings experience in all three diving events to Florida’s diving squad. She has also been a member of a synchronized diving team that qualified for Olympic Trials.

“Monica is an excellent diver, and even though she’s been out for a little while due to a lower back injury, I expect her to make a full recovery and become a vital asset to our team. I think she may end up being one of the best diving recruits we’ve ever had at Florida,” Florida diving coach Donnie Craine said.

Houlton, a Junior National Champion in the 400-yard individual medley, is expected to be a versatile swimmer for the Gators with her successes in the backstroke and freestyle events.

“Molly is going to add a lot to this team. She is going to help strengthen us in a lot of areas because she is so versatile with her skills in all of the strokes,” Troy said.

Courtesy UF Sports Info.