By Jim Harvin
Florida sports fans get a rare opportunity today to watch the Gators compete against two top-ranked programs on campus.
At 5 p.m. at Donald R. Dizney Stadium, the No. 8 Florida soccer team (2-0) will entertain top-ranked Stanford (2-0).
And at 7 p.m. in the Exactech Arena at the O’Connell Center, the No. 12 Florida volleyball team gets the 2017 season underway against No. 1 Texas.
Volleyball: UF will turn around and play No. 5 Nebraska at 5 p.m. Saturday, as UF hosts the third annual VERT Challenge.
“It’s not very often you get to play one of those teams on your home court, let alone two of those teams,” coach Mary Wise said. “Any other year, just one, Texas or Nebraska, would be the feature on your schedule. But to be able to play both of them, it’s the reason why this has a regional feel to it — even more like an NCAA semifinal because of the quality of the teams here.”
Oregon, ranked No. 18, is also in the field and will open the tournament today against Nebraska at 5 p.m. before closing it Saturday night against Texas at 7:30.
This is Wise’s 27th season at Florida and for the last 26 consecutive years, UF has been ranked in the preseason Top 25.
Tonight marks the first meeting with Texas since the 2015 Regional final in Austin when a ball was called out that actually landed more than a foot inbound and would have tied the score in the fifth set.
Fortunately, replay became official last year.
“It really doesn’t get any better than that,” said 6-foot-1 senior outside hitter Carli Snyder, one of four returning All-Americans. “When you come to a school like Florida, these are the games that you want to play. These are the games that you live for, and we’re so excited. You really couldn’t have a better story line.”
Almost everyone returns from last year’s 27-4 squad that captured the Gators’ 22nd Southeastern Conference title, all under Wise, who has 875 career wins – 794 of them at UF.
The lone loss to graduation, however, was a big one in right-side hitter Alex Holston, a four-time All-American and last year’s leading scorer.
“We’re not going to ask one player to make up for Alex Holston’s production,” Wise said. “What we will ask is from a combination of everyone. The good news is we have a five-member senior class with a whole lot of experience.”
Florida is looking for a crowd of 6,000 tonight after spending last season in the Lemerand Center, with a seating capacity of only 800.
“We just have so much potential,” 6-4 senior All-American middle blocker Rhamat Alhassan said. “Playing in the Lem was great, but having to turn away fans is never fun. Just being in the new Exactech Arena is going to be great. The open space, the floor, the atmosphere, and knowing that we’re going to have so many more people there to support us is awesome.”
All-American libero Caroline (CK) Knop (5-8, Sr.) and All-American setter Allie Monserez (5-9, R-Jr.) also return, joined by middle blockers Rachael Kramer (6-8, So.), Darrielle King (6-3, So.) and Taelor Kellum (6-2, Jr.); outside hitters Shainah Joseph (6-1, R-Sr.) and Morgyn Greer (6-3, So.); defensive specialists Lindsey Rogers (5-9, Sr.), Ann-Lorrayne Bzoch (5-5, R-Jr.), Allie Gregory (5-6, So.) and Chanelle Hargreaves (5-4, So.); and setter Cheyenne Huskey (6-2, So.).
Redshirt freshmen Mia Sokolowski (6-4, OH/RS) and Camille Nieves (5-7, DS) as well as true freshmen Paige Hammons (6-1, OH) and Macy Phillips (5-7, DS) round out UF’s 18-player roster.
What: VERT Challenge
Who/When: No. 18 Oregon vs. No. 5 Nebraska, 5 p.m. today; No. 12 Florida vs. No. 1 Texas, 7 p.m. today
Where: Exactech Arena/O’Connell Center
TV: UF’s match on SEC Network.
Radio: AM-850, 98.1-FM
Tickets: Single match range from $4 to $6. Less for large groups. Gator Ticket office: 352-375-4683 x6800
Soccer: Stanford is the fourth team to bring a No. 1 ranking to Gainesville. UF is 1-1-1 in the previous home meetings. This is the fourth consecutive UF-SU meeting that both bring top-10 rankings. The Cardinal lead the all-time series 4-0-1. Four meetings between these two teams went to overtime, including the last three.
A six-goal weekend from five different scorers opened Florida’s 2017 season with a pair of wins. First, the Gators claimed a 1-0 overtime win at Florida Atlantic on Aug. 18. Senior Gabby Seiler put in a penalty kick in the 96th minute to give UF its fifth consecutive season opening win. Florida then returned home to take a 5-0 win against Troy. Five different Gators scored in the match. Seiler scored her second goal of the weekend, while Deanne Rose, Brittney Bennett, Parker Roberts and Tess Sapone each scored their first Gator goal.
Stanford opened its season with a pair of high-scoring road wins in Milwaukee. The Cardinal started with a 4-0 win over Marquette and then defeated Wisconsin 5-0 on Sunday. Catarina Macario and Kyra Carusa lead SU with three goals each.
Admission is free for all Gator soccer regular-season matches.
Who: Florida (2-0) vs. Stanford (2-0)
When: 5 p.m. today
Where: Donald R. Dizney Stadium
TV: SEC Network