By Jim Harvin, Correspondent
Tonight in Provo, Utah, the Florida Gator volleyball team will square off against No. 4 seed BYU with a berth in the NCAA Elite Eight on the line.
While the Cougars (29-1) will have the home-court advantage, the Gators (26-6) are locked in on continuing their magical run that has them in the Round of 16.
The fact that redshirt senior Allie Monserez and her younger sister, freshman Marlie Monserez, have another chance to play together makes it all the more special.
“I think this past weekend, us playing so well really gave us confidence,” Allie said. “We went into the first and second round just trusting in our abilities, and our ability to play together really pushed us into this next week of practice. We have a huge match against BYU, and we’re just going to go for it in every aspect of the game.”
The Gators are unseeded in the NCAA Tournament for just the fourth time in program history, and this marks just the second time an unseeded UF team has advanced to the Round of 16.
Oldest sister Madison started things for the Monserez family, playing for the Gators from 2011-14.
Allie started her career at South Carolina, but transferred to Florida after her freshman year and sat out the 2015 season. That has led to this being Allie’s last season, while it is Marlie’s first.
It also created the first opportunity for any of the Monserez sisters to play together at UF, and both are enjoying every minute.
“I think we’ve definitely adopted the underdog mentality,” Marlie said. “We worked so hard in preseason and SEC season, and it’s all translated into postseason. We came into the first two rounds playing so confident and playing for the person next to us, and we want to make it special playing for our seniors. We want to make it as far as we can. If we’re playing our best volleyball, we can go in and have the outcome that we want.”
The UF-BYU winner faces the winner of today’s first match between No. 5 seed Texas (22-4) and Michigan (24-9) for the regional title Saturday at 8 p.m.
“We’re going to go in there and just play for each other and play the type of Gator volleyball we’ve been playing the last part of the season,” Allie said. “Going to BYU, where they play is such a small place with so many crazy fans. Everybody is so close to you on the court. We love playing them and knowing that all their fans will be there rooting against us. I feel like we thrive really well in that situation and we’re going to go in with a lot of confidence.”
For Marlie, this has already been a memorable year. For the first time ever, she has gotten to play with her older sister, and she wants to keep that dynamic going for as long as possible.
“I think this experience is something every freshman dreams of and not many get to experience” Marlie said. “The fact that I get to play and get to share time with my sister is so incredible. This is such an amazing team with such an amazing support system. It’s like Allie said, everybody just wants to be where their feet are.”
For coach Mary Wise, the plan is simple: Keep winning.
This is UF’s 17th trip to the Sweet 16 and the 12th in the past 14 seasons.
“We just really want to take in the moment because it’s such a special time making it to the Sweet 16,” Allie said. “Mary always tells us there are only 16 teams who are still playing, so it is just such an amazing opportunity that we get to share together. We’re all ready to go.”
What: NCAA Volleyball Tournament regional semifinal
Where: Provo, Utah
Who: Florida (26-6) vs. fourth-seeded BYU (29-1)
When: 6:30 p.m. ET
Radio: AM-850, 98.1-FM
Match 1: No. 5 Texas (22-4) vs. Michigan (24-9), 4 p.m., ESPNU. Winner plays UF-BYU winner at 8 p.m. Saturday (ESPNU) for berth in national semifinals.