Gators face tough road assignment


Published: Monday, July 1, 2002 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Tuesday, July 2, 2002 at 1:35 p.m.

If it were college football, it would be Notre Dame Stadium. If it were college basketball, it would be Duke's Cameron Indoor Stadium.

In Lincoln, Nebraska, the center stage for collegiate volleyball is the 4,200-seat Nebraska Coliseum. It is both ancient and new age. From the Roman columns lining the outside to the ticket scalpers who show up for big matches on its steps.

"Volleyball is the real deal in Lincoln," Florida coach Mary Wise said.

And the Gators will be reminded of that Friday. Florida (27-1), the 10th-seed in the NCAA Tournament, faces No. 7 seed Pepperdine (23-3) at 6 p.m. at the Coliseum with a chance to advance to the Regional finals Saturday against the Colorado State-Nebraska winner.

The second-seeded Cornhuskers, who went on the road for the first two rounds of the tournament last weekend, are back home hosting NCAA Tournament action for the 18th consecutive season. It is a building they believe wills them to victory. Take last year's come-from-behind 3-2 win over South Carolina in the second round as an example. They are 32-1 overall in NCAA matches at the volleyball-only building.

"Their fans are very supportive," Wise said. "And it's been built over a 25-year period, first Terry Pettit, then John Cook, who is in his second year (as coach). They have a great fan base and really one of the better volleyball venues in the country."

Florida knows it well. The Gators were last in Lincoln in 1999 at the season-opening NACWAA tournament where they went 1-1.

"It was my true freshman year, and I was overwhelmed," redshirt junior Nicole McCray said. "I'd never played before that big of a crowd. But having that experience now will help, with Kris (Bova), Niki (Hartley) and I having played there and Aury (Cruz) playing over with the Puerto Rican national team, we kind of have some experience."

For Florida to even begin dreaming of a possible Sunday matchup with the Huskers, they must first consider how difficult beating Pepperdine will be.

"Today, we're just focusing on Pepperdine," McCray said before Tuesday afternoon's practice. "I think playing Nebraska last last spring will help us too, but right now, we're focused on Pepperdine."

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