Photo credit to Linwood Ferguson.
While basketball may have put Fort Myers on the map as Dunk City, Florida Gulf Coast University also boasts some amazing athletes in lesser promoted sports. Athletes like nationally ranked tennis player Jordi Vives, soccer star Tabby Tindell and super swimmer Kira Toussaint are setting records, strengthening the overall athletic program and bringing respect to this young university.
Baseball players Mike Murray and Jake Noll recently were named Louisville Slugger All-Americans, following in the fame of FGCU alum and Chicago White Sox pitcher Chris Sales. A returning junior, Murray had arguably the greatest pitching season in program history with 13 wins. He was a National Player of the Year semifinalist, was named the Atlantic Sun Pitcher of the Year and was the only player from the A-Sun to make it onto the 18-man College Baseball Hall of Fame Pitcher of the Year watch list. In his first season with the Eagles, teammate Noll collected 101 hits and was named the Louisville Slugger National Freshman Player of the Year, as well as the A-Sun Freshman of the Year.
For universities which don’t have a football team, men’s basketball is most often what brings in revenue and notoriety, but athletes from other sports at FGCU are doing their part to solidify the school’s reputation as a top competitor in all sports.
“We take pride in across the board excellence,” says FGCU Athletic Director Ken Kavanagh. “We’re getting more recognition from recruits and from their families that we have a good athletic situation.”
Not only are FGCU’s athletes at the top of their game, they also boast an average 3.32 GPA and participate in team community service. Here’s a nod to the some of the best talent of 2013-14 and a look at what to expect from these athletes as they return this fall.
MEN’S TENNIS: JORDI VIVES
About the time Men’s Basketball Coach Andy Enfield left for the University of Southern California, a young athlete in another sport was packing his bags at USC to transfer to FGCU. Jordi Vives came to FGCU as a sophomore, rising to superstar status during his junior year last season by earning the Eagles’ first ever singles bid to the NCAA Championship and becoming the first FGCU tennis player to be nationally ranked.
“He had a dream year, to say the least,” says Head Coach C.J. Weber.
Weber offered Vives an opportunity to shine, with plenty of time on the court. In return, Vives would help the coach grow his young program, entering its fourth year of post season Division One eligibility.
“He’s definitely held up his end of the bargain,” Weber says. “Jordi’s going to lead us along. He set the tone this year for what FGCU tennis is all about.”
Trained by the Spanish Tennis Federation in a country which routinely produces tennis superstars, Vives recorded a perfect 8-0 record in the A-Sun Conference and an overall singles record of 20-2. He established the longest singles win streak in the nation, winning 14 straight matches, and led the conference in doubles wins, finishing his junior year with an overall record of 35-5.
It’s no surprise he was named the Atlantic Sun Conference Men’s Tennis Player of the Year — along with several other honors.
“If it gets any better, I don’t even know how to wrap my head around that,” Weber says. “The greatest thing about Jordi is, looking at his records, awards and accolades, that doesn’t scratch the surface of who he is as an ambassador for us. He’s got that Spanish charm, he’s a great student with a GPA of better than 3.5, and he’s just a great guy.”
At one point during the season, Vives was the highest ranked player by the Intercollegiate Tennis Association. He finished the season ranked 45th in the nation, becoming one of just three ranked players in the state of Florida.
“He’s accomplished an unbelievable amount, not just in our conference but on a national scale,” Weber says.
WOMEN’S SOCCER: TABBY TINDELL
Great things are expected of Tabby Tindell after her outstanding first season with the Eagles in 2013, culminating with her title as Atlantic Sun Freshman of the Year. She put together perhaps the greatest individual season in program history, leading the team with 34 points and 15 goals and setting seven program records.
“Tabby has a knack with the ball,” says Head Women’s Soccer Coach Jim Blankenship. “She’s very athletic and very strong, and she’s got that competitive bug, so she’s really good around the goal and dangerous when she’s on.”
Before joining the Eagles, Tindell was a four-year starter for Trinity Catholic High School in Ocala, Fla., tallying 160 total goals and leading Trinity to its first state championship. Blankenship is expecting Tindell to continue setting records during her tenure at FGCU.
“Tabby not only dominates everything on the field, she’s a perfect fit for us as far as academic excellence, maturity and being welcoming,” he says. “She definitely has the qualities of someone you can build a program with, on and off the field.”
Last fall, the women’s soccer team made it to the A-Sun Championship game for the third straight year, narrowly losing to Jacksonville in penalty kicks after double overtime. This season, the Eagles face a tougher schedule with several nationally ranked teams. All but two players are returning, and Blankenship expects this young team to build on last year’s success with Tindell and two other First Team All-Conference players returning.
“She had a phenomenal freshman year, and we’re hoping she can duplicate it,” says the coach.
VOLLEYBALL: JESSICA BARNES
Jessica Barnes is a standout player in two sports for the Eagles. Having wrapped up her final softball season last spring, she returns this fall as a redshirt senior on the volleyball team.
In 2013, Barnes led the team with 1,005 total attacks and a .244 total percentage in 32 matches. She also helped bring FGCU’s softball team to the 2014 Atlantic Sun Championship game, with the Eagles finishing second to Mercer.
“Jessica is a what we call in softball a ‘five-tool player,’” says Softball Head Coach David Deiros. “She can hit for average, hit for power, steal bases, play excellent defense and has a cannon for an arm. She also has what I call a ‘sixth tool’ — she is very intelligent, able to understand what you are coaching her to do, and can put the instruction into action very efficiently.”
It’s not easy to play two sports at the Division One level, especially ones as diverse as softball and volleyball, say her coaches.
“There’s no question Jessica has distinguished herself when it come to athleticism,” says new Head Volleyball Coach Matt Botsford. He joins the Eagles from Colorado State and was head coach of a professional team in Sweden previously.
“Our expectations are high,” Botsford says of the upcoming season, hoping to improve on FGCU’s No. 4 standing in the A-Sun. “We’ve got a lot to look forward to, and Jessica is going to be a big part of that. We’re going to lean on her quite a bit with her experience.”
SWIMMING & DIVING: KIRA TOUSSAINT & EMMA SVENSSON
With an Olympic Gold medalist for a mother, Kira Toussaint has a lot to live up to, but she’s well on her way. This Netherlands native is the first swimmer from FGCU to be named to the All-American Team and was the Coastal Collegiate Swimming Association Swimmer of the Year. She captured eight FGCU program records and was the university’s first swimmer to stand on the awards podium at the NCAA Championships — all as a freshman.
“She’s well known for the underwater part of her race,” notes Head Coach Neal Studd. “She’s maybe the best in the world underwater for pushing off the wall.”
Although her mother, Jolanda de Rover, is a two-time Olympic medalist for the Netherlands, Toussaint wasn’t pushed too hard or too early, allowing her to develop at her own pace, Studd says. After missing qualification for the World Championships by a tenth of a second, Toussaint took four months off to refocus, returning to the pool with greater determination than ever.
“I wasn’t surprised because I knew she was that talented,” Studd says of her standout success.
Teammate Emma Svensson joined Toussaint for FGCU’s first appearance in the NCAA Division I Women’s Swimming and Diving Championships. A native of Sweden, Svensson initially failed to qualify but entered a last chance meet, where she shaved a half-second off her time and then went on to become the first Eagles swimmer to make it to finals.
Not only did Svensson set swimming records, she also earned the NCAA’s Elite 89 Award, honoring top student athletes in each sport, boasting a 4.0 grade point average as an economics major.
“Emma is just an outstanding student athlete,” Studd says of the returning senior and team captain. “She’s one of the nicest people I’ve ever met, an incredible athlete and young lady. Just check off every box for all-around student athlete.”
Together, Toussaint and Svensson have taken the Eagles’ Swimming and Diving program to a new level.
“This year was our national breaking,” says the coach. “We were on TV, and we finished ahead of Ohio State, Alabama, LSU, Kansas, Duke — big schools that have massive resources. It’s kind of like what the basketball team did; in swimming, we were kind of a big deal.”
FGCU finished the season ranked 32 in the nation. Studd hopes to break into the Top 25 this year. With talent like Toussaint and Svensson leading the way, it’s not an unrealistic goal.