'Most exciting' time of year for Gators volleyball


Published: Thursday, December 1, 2016 at 7:19 p.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, December 1, 2016 at 7:19 p.m.

The 11th-ranked Florida volleyball team enters NCAA Tournament play on a roll after clinching a share of the Southeastern Conference title for the 22nd time in the past 26 years under coach Mary Wise.

Facts

Today

What: NCAA Tournament first round

Who: Cincinnati (22-9) vs. No. 16 Florida State (24-5), 4:30 p.m.;
Alabama State (24-8) vs. No. 11 Florida (26-3), 7 p.m.

Where: Gale Lemerand Athletic Center on UF campus

Parking: Available, free of charge, in the O'Connell Center lot across from Ben Hill Griffin Stadium beginning at 3:30 p.m. Campus-wide parking restrictions on all lots will be lifted at 5 p.m. and will not be in effect at any point Saturday.

UF (26-3), which has won 14 of its last 15 matches with the lone loss a five-set heartbreaker at SEC co-champ and No. 18 Missouri, earned the No. 11 overall seed in this year's 64-team NCAA field and will host first- and second-round matches for the 24th time.

“We say that we have three seasons — a preseason, a conference season and a postseason,” junior outside hitter Carli Snyder said. “I would argue that this is the most exciting out of all of them.

“This is what we've been training since August for, and for some of us it goes back to January. It starts in the spring, and we've been working really hard. We're all really excited to get started.”

This marks the Gators' 27th NCAA Tournament appearance overall, including 26 straight since Wise took over the program in 1991. That ties for the fourth-longest streak in history.

Alabama State (24-8), which captured the SWAC Championship for the third time in the last four years, will be UF's first-round opponent at 7 p.m. today in the Lemerand Athletic Center.

In the tournament opener at 4:30 p.m., No. 16 Florida State (24-5) will take on Cincinnati (22-9).

The two winners will meet Saturday at 7:30 p.m. with a Sweet 16 berth on the line.

“Nothing can compare with this,” freshman middle blocker Rachael Kramer said. “The upperclassmen talk about how great it is and how this is their favorite season. But honestly, you can't prepare for it. It's such a different feeling than the preseason and during the season. I just honestly can't describe it. I'm so excited to play.”

Wise noted she felt something unique about this year's team from the beginning.

“We were off campus with the start of training camp, and we knew something special was going to happen with this team, just the way they bonded so quickly,” she said. “We had eight freshmen plus a transfer, so we had nine new players after graduating that huge senior class. But they were so bought-in from the very beginning, and we knew that if we could get them on the same page, the talent would take over. Then it was just a matter of experience, and it's been pretty special all year.”

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