By Jim Harvin
Through no fault of her own, coach Mary Wise has been stuck on 798 career volleyball wins at UF since the third-ranked Gators completed back-to-back sweeps over North Carolina State and North Carolina in San Juan, Puerto Rico, Sept. 2-3.
That covers a span of 11 days, including the cancellation of all the matches at last weekend’s Active Ankle Challenge courtesy of Hurricane Irma.
The good news is UF is finally back in action at the annual Gator Invitational today and Saturday at the Exactech Arena in the O’Connell Center.
“There are a lot of teams around the country who got to play last weekend, and obviously we didn’t,” senior libero Caroline “CK” Knop said. “That’s something that Mary talked a lot about this week in practice. We need to get better.”
Action starts at 10 a.m. when Lipscomb (4-5) takes on Northern Kentucky (4-2), followed by UF (4-0) and Florida A&M (1-6) at noon.
The Rattlers then take on Lipscomb at 5 p.m., followed by Florida taking on Northern Kentucky at 7.
Two matches Saturday conclude the tournament, with FAMU battling Northern Kentucky at 5 p.m. before UF closes things out against Lipscomb at 7.
Although the match between Florida and No. 23 Michigan State was among those canceled, the two squads did scrimmage Saturday because the Spartans were still in town.
“It was definitely a great opportunity having Michigan State scrimmage against us, and then we also got to eat with them afterwards so that was kind of a cool experience,” redshirt junior setter Allie Monserez said. “We’re really looking forward to being back in the O’Dome this weekend.”
One of the main storylines will be Wise, who is in her 27th year at UF, going for her 800th career win at Florida.
She is just two wins shy of becoming only the fourth coach in NCAA history to win 800 matches at the same Division I school and also can become just the 11th coach in any NCAA division to win 800 matches at one school.
What: Gator Invitational
Who: Florida A&M (1-6) vs. No. 3 Florida (4-0), noon today; Northern Kentucky (4-2) vs. Florida, 7 p.m. today; Lipscomb (4-5) vs. Florida, 7 p.m. Saturday.
Where: O’Connell Center
Radio: AM-850, 98.1-FM
Promotion: Clear Tote Bag to first 200 fans today.
Hurricane Relief Efforts: The University of Florida Student-Athlete Advisory Committee is holding a drive to collect items for those displaced by Hurricane Irma. Bring some items to today’s match to share. Collection points will be at the Pressly Stadium entrance. Needed items: Cleaning supplies, socks, baby wipes, diapers, blankets, Ziploc bags, toiletries, clothing, non-perishable food items.
Parking: Restrictions for the garage in the main O’Dome lot will be lifted today for those wishing to attend the morning matches. Restrictions on all campus parking lots are lifted at 3:30 p.m. Fans attending Saturday’s matches can utilize campus parking lots west of the O’Dome, as well as the main O’Dome lot, after 3:30 p.m.
In addition, if the Gators win all three matches this weekend, Wise’s career total will rise to 882, tying longtime UC Santa Barbara head coach Kathy Gregory for the ninth-most victories in Division I history.
“We’ve been down this road before, this time because of the weather,” Wise said. “We’re taking it all in perspective. We understand that there are a lot of people in Florida who had it a whole lot worse than we did, and so we just tried to use the opportunities that we had extra for practicing and to get better knowing that it’s not as easy to get better when you’re not playing an opponent.”
Florida will host in-state rival and No. 20 Florida State at 6 p.m. Tuesday before opening Southeastern Conference play at Arkansas on Sept. 24.