Florida volleyball team begins quest for national championship tonight
In a season filled with challenges, including taking every opponent's best shot for eight consecutive weeks at No. 1, the biggest challenge of the year begins tonight for the Florida volleyball team.
The NCAA Women's Volleyball Tournament begins tonight.
The top-seeded and No. 1 Gators (27-1, 20-0 SEC) will play South Carolina State in the opening round at 7:30 p.m. in the Stephen C. O’Connell Center. Florida State and Georgia Southern will play in the first match today at 5 p.m. in the O'Connell Center. Tonight's winners will advance to play in the second round game Saturday at 7:30 p.m.
The Gators are hosting NCAA First and Second Round action for the 19th time in the last 20 years. This is Florida's first No. 1 national seed, and including this season, UF has made 20 consecutive and 21 overall NCAA Championship appearances (1987, 1991-2010).
Florida coach Mary Wise refuses to try and handicap the field, but said what she likes most about her team is that it hasn't reached its full potential yet.
“Each year, when you bring a different team in, it’s a different tournament.'' Wise said. "The excitement about this year is that this is a group that still is peaking. Everyday in practice there’s something that the team is doing, whether it’s an individual player or a system that we’re improving on. Plus, this team has shown it will compete. None of the matches become easy, but if we can compete and play well, at least we know we have a chance.”
The Gators are led by a veteran group, including six All-SEC players. Florida is led offensively by 2010 SEC Player of the Year Kelly Murphy, who is the only player to rank among the SEC top-10 individually (all matches combined) in hitting percentage, service aces per set and kills per set simultaneously. Murphy leads the SEC with 0.39 service aces per set, while ranking fourth in hitting efficiency with a .370 clip and ninth in kills per set with 3.05.
Senior outside hitter Callie Rivers, and junior outside hitter Kristy Jaeckel follow with 2.58 and 2.49 kills per set, respectively. Rivers is second on the team with 2.26 digs per set and ranks third in the SEC with 0.31 service aces per set, while Jaeckel is 10th in the league with 0.26 aces per set.
As the tournament's No. 1 seed, the Gators are trying their best to keep things in perspective as they begin tournament play tonight.
“I think it’s a reflection of all the hard work we’ve put in throughout the season,'' Jaeckel said. "I don’t think we’re really feeling the
pressure, but we understand that it’s a great recognition. Obviously it’s not how you start the tournament, it’s how you finish, so
we’re taking it one weekend at a time right now.”
Listen here for more on the tournament and how Wise sees things shapiing up: