Notebook: UF volleyball on a roll
Published: Monday, November 19, 2012 at 5:46 p.m.
Last Modified: Monday, November 19, 2012 at 5:46 p.m.
The 16th-ranked Florida volleyball team clinched the 2012 SEC Championship outright with wins over LSU and South Carolina this past weekend in the O'Connell Center.
Sunday was Senior Day honoring UF's senior trio of Betsy Smith, Tangerine Wiggs and Sundai Weston, and fittingly enough Smith and Wiggs, Florida's two senior starters, led the Gators to a sweep of the Gamecocks, combining for 21 kills while hitting .500 and .444, respectively.
The crown runs head coach Mary Wise's remarkable streak to 20 SEC titles in 22 seasons, but rest assured there is nothing ho-hum about this one.
Florida (23-4, 17-1) was picked to finish third in this year's SEC preseason poll.
“For our players this year to win the SEC with all we've had to battle speaks to their resiliency, their hard work, their talent and in great ways to the leadership of those three seniors,” Wise said. “The embrace that Betsy Smith and Tangerine Wiggs had on the court afterward, you could tell it was pretty special.”
The Gators close out their SEC campaign with road matches at Auburn on Wednesday and at Georgia on Friday before returning home and preparing for the NCAA Tournament selection show that airs Sunday on ESPNU at 4 p.m.
By virtue of winning the SEC title, the Gators have clinched an automatic berth, their 23rd overall and 22nd in a row under Wise.
All you need to know about how special the 2012 Gators and their stellar senior class of Kathryn Williamson, Erika Tymrak, Holly King, McKenzie Barney and Jo Dragotta were was watch head coach Becky Burleigh fight a losing battle against tears as she addressed the media Monday more than 18 hours after eighth-ranked UF had its season end with a 2-0, third-round NCAA Tournament loss to Notre Dame.
“This was a real heartbreaking loss for this group,” Burleigh said. “I know normally we sort of reserve the word 'great' for teams that win a national championship, but this was a really great team. I really love the way this team competed the whole year and how they represented Gator Nation. I'm just really proud of this senior class and where they took us. I'm disappointed for them that we could not extend the season a little longer, because this was a really fun team to work with all year.”
The Gators (19-5-1, 11-2), who won the SEC regular-season and tournament titles and made it to third-round NCAA play for the first time since 2008, seemed to be peaking at just the right time and were one win away from their first NCAA quarterfinal since 2003.
“I think that's why it's so hard for the season to be over because I don't think we were missing anything to win a national championship,” Burleigh said. “They had heart, they had work ethic, they had chemistry, and I love the way we were playing.”
It will be a busy Thanksgiving week for the Gators, who play four games over a span of seven days.
Following Monday night's game against North Florida that was the last home game of November, UF will head to the South Point Thanksgiving Tournament in Las Vegas, Nev., for games against North Carolina State, Northern Iowa and Arizona State on Friday through Sunday.
“We are going to a tournament, so we won't be here sitting around and feeling sorry for ourselves that their classmates are at home eating turkey with their families, so that helps a little bit,” coach Amanda Butler said. “We will get to celebrate Thanksgiving together, and fortunately we have a lot of families that will be traveling out with us to Las Vegas for that tournament, so we'll have some quality family time.
“We just have a season that covers pretty much all of the big holidays, and that's just part of the gig.”
SWIMMING AND DIVING
The second-ranked Florida men (4-0, 3-0) came through the dual-meet portion of their fall schedule unscathed, capped by a 167-133 win over No. 24 FSU in Tallahassee last Thursday, while the No. 11 women (1-3, 1-2) dropped a tough 157-143 decision to the No. 19 Seminoles.
“We always tell our athletes that we have to win the close races,” associate head coach Anthony Nesty said. “It seemed that with the women we lost all the close races, while on the men's side we won all of those close races.”
Both UF squads will close out their fall schedules by participating in the Ohio State Buckeye Invitational in Columbus on Nov. 30-Dec. 2.