Gator volleyball team prepares for NCAA tournament
UF has off-set heavy personnel losses to graduation to earn No. 3 regional seed, share of SEC title
GAINESVILLE, Fla. (WCJB) -If you’re a consistent winner, you ask for a respectable draw come NCAA tournament time. The Gator volleyball team has gotten one, because Florida deserves it.
Mary Wise and the Gators open the NCAA tournament on Friday at home, earning hosting rights for the 28th time based on an overall record of 23-5 and a share of the SEC title. Florida’s opening round foe is Florida A&M, a team UF is 12-0 against all-time. That winning streak includes a three-set sweep of the Rattlers to begin last year’s NCAA tournament. But to Wise, victory is no formality.
“Everyone is coming in from what was either achieved throughout the course of the regular season or the high from a conference postseason tournament,” said Wise of the NCAA field. “Parity is alive and well.”
A program with 25 SEC titles is almost never overlooked, but the Gators owe a lot of their competitive edge to having played with a giant chip on their shoulder all season. Florida has off-set heavy losses to graduation to grab the No. 3 seed in its quadrant of the bracket. Newcomers like SEC Freshman of the Year Alexis Stucky and transfer Marina Markova have kept the Gators near the top. To a veteran like libero Elli McKissock, it’s the greatest gift a one could ask for.
“I’m really proud of what we’ve accomplished this season,” said McKissock. “No one expected us to get this far, where were at, and a big thing we’re working on is lowering expectations and having fun as a team.”
“It felt like we had a hard time getting going because we went from one injury to the next,” said Wise. “We finally got a one-page injury report and that allowed us to really have everybody available to practice.”
Florida and Florida A&M face off at 7 p.m. Friday at the O’Connell Center. That match is preceded by the 4:30 match between Florida Gulf Coast and Iowa State. Winners meet Saturday at 7 p.m. for a berth in the Sweet 16.
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