Gators thrilled to be back home

The Florida volleyball team takes on Michigan in the NCAA regional semifinals tonight.

Brad McClenny/Staff photographer
Published: Friday, December 9, 2011 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Friday, December 9, 2011 at 12:22 a.m.

With apologies due to classic rock-and-rollers Thin Lizzy, the girls are back in town.


Today's match

WHAT: NCAA regional semifinals
WHO: UF vs. Michigan
WHERE: Stephen C. O'Connell Center
WHEN: 7 p.m.
MEDIA: Radio: AM-850

The 17th-ranked Florida volleyball team is back home in the O'Connell Center after knocking off a good Missouri team and a very good Northern Iowa squad, the latter of which was the No. 6 seed and was playing at home, both by 3-1 scores last weekend in first- and second-round NCAA Tournament action.

Knowing that Gainesville had already been chosen as one of four NCAA regional sites, UF, which is in the NCAA Tournament for the 21st straight time under head coach Mary Wise — but just the second as an unseeded team — was none too happy about having to travel for the first two rounds.

The Gators used the snub as motivation, and now find themselves right where they want to be — home, sweet home, in the O'Dome, for regional play.

“I'm really happy to be back in the O'Dome,” said senior and three-time All-America Kelly Murphy. “When we played our last match here, we didn't know whether we would be coming back here hosting or, you know, make it back to the regional. So it really is a feeling of just being grateful to be back in the O'Dome and have our fans back behind us.”

“Well, it may sound trite to say we're happy to be here, but those words ring really true when you go into the tournament unseeded and have to go play the likes of a team as good as Missouri and then, 24 hours later, have to play a team like Northern Iowa and the year they've had,” said Wise.

“To win those two matches, right now our confidence is high. We're playing this as a non-seeded team; expectations are low, confidence is high.”

The Gators play Michigan tonight at 7. The 22nd-rankedWolverines (22-12) are riding a high of their own after upsetting traditional power Stanford, 3-1, on the Cardinal's home floor last weekend.

“They are physical behind the end line and they are physical at the net,” Wise said. “That is prototype Big Ten.”

Michigan is one of three Big Ten teams in the Gainesville Regional, with UF the lone exception. The other two, Ohio State and No. 3 seed Illinois, open tournament play at 5 p.m.

This year's ride is decidedly different than last season when Florida was the No. 1 overall seed for the 2010 NCAA Tournament. UF was upset in the third round by Purdue on a weekend that eventually saw three of the top four seeds go down.

This time, the Gators are not the hunted.

“There is really no pressure on this group,” Wise said. “They're just playing to have fun, and they've been like that in practice and they've been like that in matches. So it's been really a kind of a fun time for us, and we're just going to ride this momentum as long as it can possibly take us.”

Both of today's matches will be carried live on, while Saturday's championship match will air live on ESPNU at 7 p.m.

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