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Gators to host prestigious Nike volleyball tournament this weekend



There was a time not so long ago when Florida volleyball coach Mary Wise went after the toughest non-conference competition she could muster to prepare her Gators for the NCAA tournament. At the time, SEC volleyball wasn't competitive enough for the squads to present a serious challenge and prepare the Gators for what they would face in postseason play.

That's no longer the case. With the SEC now among  the most competitive leagues in the nation, you might think Wise might back away from her early philosophy.

Not a chance. And this weekend's tournament is proof.

The No. 4 Gators will host the Nike Volleyball Big Four Classic today and Saturday at the Stephen C. O'Connell Center - one of the premier volleyball tournaments in the nation. 

Along with the Gators (5-0), three-time defending NCAA Champion and top-ranked Penn State, No. 2 Stanford and No. 5 Texas will all participate. The event will feature six returning 2009 American Volleyball Coaches Association All-Americans, including three first-team selections. The four programs have combined for 11 NCAA Championships and 39 NCAA Final Four appearances.

"It's a great opportunity for our program and our players to be part of this event, the first of four years where these teams will come together to compete in a tournament,'' Wise said. "The key about this tournament is when the NCAA went to predetermined sites, it really allowed the flexibility to schedule out of conference. You see this a lot in basketball. It's great to grow our sport this way. Our fans and our players are really going to enjoy this. In the past, we were trying to protect an opportunity to host, and you had to do that with almost a perfect record. You couldn't take chances. Now, we get to play in a tournament that's not chosen based on a poll, but it's about work and you get a chance to compete against the very best players in the country."

Florida is coming off three wins this past weekend, defeating Albany, Bowling Green and No. 15 Colorado State. The Gators have already defeated three top-15 opponents this season.  Wise said the field of participants is what has created such a buzz around Gainesville this week for her players.

"I think it's because all eyes in the volleyball world are on Gainesville,'' she said. "Every week we play, it's a big deal for the players, but when they hear about this weekend, they hear about it from their relatives, friends, former high school and club coaches and teammates, that everyone in the country who knows college volleyball knows about this tournament."

Here's the schedule:

FRIDAY: No. 2 Stanford vs. No. 5 Texas, 5:30 p.m.; No. 4 Florida vs. No. 1 Penn State, 7:30 p.m.

SATURDAY: Florida vs. Stanford/Texas, 4:30 p.m.; Penn State vs. Stanford/Texas, 6:30 p.m.

The UF/Penn State match will air on television same day tape delay on Sun Sports tonight at 10:30pm.  Saturday's UF match vs. either Stanford or Texas will air live on Sun Sports at 4:30 p.m.


[Last modified: Friday, September 10, 2010 1:25pm]


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