Gators host Florida A&M

Florida plays the Rattlers on Thursday at home and could host a second-round match Friday with a win.


Published: Monday, July 1, 2002 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Tuesday, July 2, 2002 at 1:24 p.m.

Despite a 25-1 record and a No. 7 national ranking, Florida began to get an overwhelming sense of uneasiness during Monday's NCAA Tournament Selection Show.

As the brackets were unveiled, a disturbing trend was emerging. Many of the tournament's top seeds were slated to open the 64-team tournament on the road.

But after 20 grueling minutes of watching inside the Lettermen's Club at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium, Florida was overcome with relief. It would be a first- and second-round host after all.

The Gators were given a No. 10 seed and will host a miniature Sunshine State version of the NCAA Tournament as Florida A&M, Florida International and Central Florida will come to Gainesville for Thursday's first round and Friday's second round. The Gators, who face Florida A&M at 7 p.m. Thursday, were relieved they would stay home for the first two rounds.

"You look at the brackets and with the mandates of less travel, they could have easily shipped us out," coach Mary Wise said. "It's not like it has been where if you were a top-16 team, you were a lock to host."

The reason was because the NCAA Championships Committee, with approval from the NCAA Management's Council, voted to limit the travel of NCAA volleyball, soccer and field hockey in the wake of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

As a result, six of the tournament's top 10 teams will be on the road for the first two rounds. The other residual effect is the sites for Regionals, held Dec. 6-9, will not be announced until after this weekend. What effect this will have on the NCAA Tournament remains to be seen.

"But I don't think it will affect the good teams," Florida senior Niki Hartley said.

At 25-1, Florida has won 23 straight matches since losing at home to Arizona, a fifth seed in the tournament, on Sept. 1. Of the nine teams seeded ahead of Florida, only top-seed Long Beach State (28-0) and second-seeded Nebraska (27-1) have a better record.

"Honestly, I thought we'd be higher," senior setter Kris Bova said. "But we can live with a 10-seed. We'll go out there and play our best."

Although the RPI isn't released for volleyball until after the season, it was clear the Gators were bumped behind a few teams with a greater schedule strength.

"We knew we'd be about a 10-seed," Wise said. "To get that seed and get to host, we couldn't have asked for more."

Should the Gators win the first two rounds in Gainesville, it could face No. 7 seed Pepperdine in the Regional Semifinals and No. 2 seed and defending national champion Nebraska in the Regional Finals, should those higher seeds advance. But for now, Florida is happy to be home and focused on Florida A&M.

"I've been anticipating it all day yesterday and all day today - where we're going, who we'd be playing," Bova said. "But thank God we're at home."

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