FLORIDA VOLLEYBALL

Senior Wiggs stepping up for the Gators


UF's right-side hitter Tangerine Wiggs, right, leads the SEC in hitting percentage (.500).

Brad McClenny/ Staff photographer/ FILE
Published: Thursday, September 20, 2012 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Friday, September 21, 2012 at 12:02 a.m.

When Tangerine Wiggs was looking to transfer from Washington State following the 2009 season, Florida coach Mary Wise felt she had a clear recruiting advantage.

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Said Wise: “I thought ‘What better place to play than Florida for a player named Tangerine?'”

The 6-foot-4 Wiggs, a Seattle native who redshirted as a true freshman in 2008 and played in just 10 sets the following season for the Cougars, decided to make the cross-country move to UF.

The results have been fruitful for all concerned.

“It actually makes me emotional just thinking about it because the hardest decision I ever made was transferring,” Wiggs said. “It really took a huge leap of faith going to the unknown, and I'll forever be indebted to Mary. She took the chance — she had never seen me play. It just says a lot about her and the chance she was willing to take on me.”

Wiggs, who plays the right-side hitter position, played in all 31 matches for the 2010 Gators, finishing third on the team in blocks and fifth in kills. She followed up with an even better 2011 performance, earning second-team All-SEC honors while starting 23 of UF's 33 matches and playing in every set. She was also an All-SEC Academic selection.

Now in her final season, Wiggs, a fan favorite since her early days at UF, has stepped it up another notch. Heading into tonight's match against SEC newcomer Missouri, she leads the league in hitting percentage (.500), having recorded 79 kills with just nine errors in 140 swings.

Defensively, she's also played well, tying fellow fifth-year senior Betsy Smith for second on the team with 18 blocks.

After earning All-Tournament honors at the 2012 Active Ankle Challenge won by UF two weeks ago, Wiggs helped the 13th-ranked Gators pick up a pair of big SEC road wins last weekend against Arkansas and Kentucky.

She tied her season-high with 13 kills — capped by the match-winner — en route to hitting a match-high .500 in Florida's five-set thriller over the Razorbacks and had 10 kills (no errors) and a .556 hitting mark in the Gators' first 3-0 sweep of the Wildcats in five years.

Wiggs finished the weekend with 23 kills and only one attack error in 42 swings.

“She just seems so much quicker to the ball, and I think that she's in the best shape that she's been in,” Wise said. “She's stronger now. I just feel she's a different type athlete than she was her first two years here.

“I think the biggest difference is Tange could kill balls, but all the stars had to line up for that to happen. Now, her ability to score in the gray — she's a much better blocker, more physical above the net. She's had two full years of working with (strength and conditioning coach) Matt DeLancey. Those are some long limbs to get strong, and now her jump reaches higher, her strength base is better, her volleyball IQ has improved — what she's doing is she's playing like a fifth-year senior.”

Wiggs is savoring every moment.

“I have so much love for these people on my team,” she said. “They welcomed me with open arms, and it's bizarre thinking that every game I play is going to be the last time I'm going to play a team. Betsy, Sundai (Weston, UF's other senior) and I have all gotten really close.

“You know, looking back after each game, it's sad, but at the same time it's really exciting. I just want to do the best I can to go out with a bang.”

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