UF volleyball seniors focused
Published: Thursday, November 15, 2012 at 10:54 p.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, November 15, 2012 at 10:54 p.m.
This weekend, seniors Betsy Smith, Tangerine Wiggs and Sundai Weston will play the final regular-season home matches of their Florida careers.
Who: LSU at Florida
When: 6 p.m.
Where: O'Connell Center
Gainesville-area radio: 103.7 FM
Coincidentally, the 16th-ranked Gators (21-4, 15-1) can clinch the 2012 Southeastern Conference title — a fitting reward for this terrific trio.
“All three of them are playing their best volleyball their senior year, which is always our wish for any senior class,” head coach Mary Wise said. “There will be a lot of emotions Sunday (Senior Day).”
Smith, a 6-foot-2, fifth-year senior middle blocker from Atlanta, Ga., is the team captain and emotional leader. Despite suffering a sprained ankle three weeks ago, she missed only one match and ranks fourth on the team in kills (153) and third in blocks (60) while hitting a solid .333.
“In all my years of coaching, I don't know if there's been a greater success story than Betsy Smith,” Wise said. “She came in as part of a heralded recruiting class but was redshirted, and that decision to redshirt her was tough at the time. She saw very little playing time her first few years, but her hard work – this is a player who I believe is going to graduate with a 4.0 in multiple majors — and her success on the court really is one of the greatest success stories I've ever been around.”
Wiggs, a 6-foot-4 right-side hitter from Seattle, Wash., transferred following her redshirt freshman season (2009) at Washington State. Not only does she rank second in the SEC in hitting (.389) this season to teammate Chloe Mann (.414), but she's third on the team in kills (196), second in blocks (61) and set a school-record hitting mark of .929 (13 kills,14 attacks, no errors) against Mississippi State.
“Tangerine Wiggs has just gotten better and better her three years here and is certainly the personality of the team,” Wise said. “All you've got to do is look after a match. She's like a rock star on the floor. The match is long over, the bleachers have been swept and there's nobody left in the O-Dome, but all of the little kids are still surrounding Tange to get her autograph, or maybe just see how far up her legs they measure because her length is pretty special.”
Weston, the lone true senior, is a 5-foot-6 defensive specialist/setter from Naples who usually runs the opposing team's offense in practice. This year, she has played in a career-high 39 sets (17 matches) after playing in just 24 sets and 18 matches her first three years combined.
“Sundai Weston hasn't been on the court as much as the other two, but she really is the mother of the team,” Wise said. “She's such a caretaker and has these wonderful skills that every team needs — especially a team of females. That's what Sundai provides for us.”
The Gators, who graduated All-America pin hitters Kelly Murphy and Kristy Jaeckel from last year's NCAA regional finalist squad, were picked to finish third in this year's SEC preseason poll.
That was before they lost their only returning outside hitter, sophomore Noami Santos-Lamb, to a torn ACL a week before the season opener.
Now, with four matches remaining, they find themselves one win away from clinching a tie for their 20th SEC title in 22 years under Wise and two wins away from clinching it outright.
UF faces LSU (12-14, 8-9) today at 6 p.m. in the O'Connell Center before hosting South Carolina (16-13, 4-13) Sunday for Senior Day at 1:30 p.m.
“This was a year in which there isn't anybody who expected us to be in this situation and have a chance this late in the season to win it,” Wise said. “Graduation is part of it every year, and injuries are part of it. But it's how your team responds, and I think that's been the tell-tale sign of this group. They just respond to adversity. They don't get rattled. They keep working hard, and if we win this, it will be as special a championship as we've ever achieved.”
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