NCAA slight motivates UF volleyball


Florida's Tangerine Wiggs, right, and Betsy Smith celebrate after a kill against Tennessee on Sept. 25.

Brad McClenny/Staff photographer
Published: Friday, December 2, 2011 at 8:00 a.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, December 1, 2011 at 6:53 p.m.

Maybe there should have been a “Gainesville or Bust!” sign on the chartered bus that left the University of Florida campus with the Gator volleyball team Wednesday headed to the airport in Orlando for a flight to Iowa and a first-round NCAA Tournament match.

Facts

Today's match

Who: No. 17 Florida (24-5) vs. Missouri (21-12)
What: NCAA Tournament, first round
When: 6 p.m.
Where: Cedar Falls, Iowa
Gainesville radio: AM-850

“We're going out there ready to play hard and ready to show people that we should have been here at home first,” sophomore setter Chanel Brown said. “We're definitely motivated to play hard and just win and then come back here to play.




“We definitely have a little chip on our shoulder that we're not here.”

The chip is the result of a skip by the NCAA selection committee, which did not award UF an overall seed (top 16).

With the O'Connell Center one of four predetermined host sites for this year's NCAA Regional action, the 17th-ranked Gators (24-5) were hoping to be seeded and thus be assured of hosting first- and second-round action in the O-Dome as well. It didn't happen.

Instead, UF, which is making its 22nd overall NCAA Tournament appearance and 21st in a row under head coach Mary Wise, enters the postseason unseeded for just the second time in school history and finds itself in Cedar Falls, Iowa, for its opening match against future Southeastern Conference opponent Missouri (21-12) today at 6 p.m. ET.

Last year, Florida entered the postseason as the No. 1 overall seed but was upset in the third round by Purdue. This year, the Gators, with many of the same players, seem to be under the radar.

“You know, a little bit of the pressure is gone, and we're really just focusing on one game at a time this year,” said junior right-side hitter Tangerine Wiggs. “Being on the road, it's exciting because we understand that we won't have our fans and the support in the O-Dome behind us, but we do understand that we need to learn to play for each other and make sure we take care of the small things.”

“There are no guarantees in the NCAA Tournament,” Wise said. “Last year, we had a perfect season (in conference), and it didn't get us anywhere. So we're looking at this year and we're going to have to fight, claw and we're going to be in a huge battle just to get out of the first round. One of the toughest matches we'll play all year will be in the first round of the NCAA Tournament.”

Following the UF-Mizzou match, host and No. 6 seed Northern Iowa (32-1), the Missouri Valley Conference champion, takes on Niagara (25-8) at 8. The winners will meet Saturday night at 7:30 in UNI's McLeod Center with a trip to the Gainesville Regional (Dec. 9-10) on the line.

“It's so motivating,” Wiggs said.“We want to come back and play at the O-Dome in front of everyone so badly, but one thing we're definitely not going to do is look past anyone.”

Live streaming of Friday's and Saturday's matches will be available at UNIPanthers.com.

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