UF volleyball set to tangle with third-seeded Texas


The Gators are introduced to the crowd before their second-round match of the NCAA Tournament against the College of Charleston at the Stephen C. O'Connell Center on Saturday.

Matt Stamey/Staff photographer
Published: Friday, December 7, 2012 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, December 6, 2012 at 6:22 p.m.

Texas, the No. 3 overall seed, is a solid favorite to end the season for No. 14 seed Florida when the two teams collide in an NCAA Regional match in Austin, Texas, tonight at 8.

Facts

NCAA Regional

Who: No. 14 Florida at No. 3 Texas
When: 8 p.m.
Gainesville-area radio: AM-850
Online stream: ESPN3
Where: Gregory Gymnasium, Austin, Texas

While knocking off the experienced and talented Longhorns will certainly be a major challenge for head coach Mary Wise's young UF squad, the Gators have disproved the experts all season long.

“I think this group has embraced the round of sixteen similar to the way they have the entire season,” Wise said. “That is in terms of not getting too high, not taking anything for granted and being excited about it.”

Florida, which was picked to finish third in the Southeastern Conference before the season, basically ran away with its 20th SEC title, finishing the season with a 19-1 league mark. After sweeping through their first two NCAA opponents in the Gainesville Sub-Regional, UF sports a 27-4 mark heading into tonight's showdown with the Longhorns (25-4).

The two teams met back in August in the second week of the regular season, with the Longhorns taking a hard-fought, 3-0 win by scores of 29-27, 25-22 and 26-24.

“They have obviously tweaked their offense and they're doing some things with their defense that's different,” Wise said. “But what hasn't changed is they're still one of the most physical teams that we have seen all year.”

Texas, the Big 12 champion, leads the nation in hitting percentage (.324) and is ninth in the country in blocks (2.99 per set), while the Gators stand fourth in hitting with a .302 mark.

This is UF's 21st appearance in the round of 16 in 22 seasons under Wise, with the Gators standing 13-7 in their 20 previous matchups.

“It's obviously exciting to make it to the sweet sixteen,” redshirt sophomore libero Taylor Unroe said. “We have to go up against a big, physical Texas team and it's exciting. We're proud of ourselves for how far we've gotten, and we can't wait to see what's going to happen.”

The Longhorns are led by Big 12 Player of the Year Haley Eckerman, a 6-foot-3 sophomore outside hitter who leads the team in kills (496) and aces (41) and has 215 digs; 6-3 junior outside hitter Bailey Webster (371 kills, 81 blocks); 6-1 middle blocker Khat Bell, who has a team-leading 123 blocks to go with 190 kills; and 6-1 senior Sha'Dare McNeal (180 kills, 235 digs).

The Gators will counter with SEC Player of the Year Chloe Mann, a redshirt junior middle blocker who leads the nation in hitting (.442) and has 367 kills and a team-high 117 blocks; SEC Freshman of the Year Ziva Recek, who leads the team in kills (425, UF freshman record); 6-4 senior right-side hitter Tangerine Wiggs (.382, 239 kills); and junior setter Taylor Brauneis, who led the SEC in assists (11.61 per set), a mark that ranks 13th in the nation.

The UF-UT match will follow the regional opener that starts at 6 p.m. between No. 6 seed Southern Cal (29-5), the Pac-12 runner-up, and surprising Wichita State (24-9), a team that upset No. 11 seed Kansas last weekend.

“There's nothing we can do in practice to simulate it; you just hope they don't get overwhelmed,” Wise said of playing Texas in the confines of a sold-out Gregory Gymnasium.

“This weekend, similar to all season, there's really no pressure on the Gators, and I think the team has responded to being the underdog. They've embraced that role and enjoyed it, and I've heard them talking every day this week about how there's only sixteen teams still playing.”

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