By Jim Harvin
So far, so good for the Florida volleyball team.
UF, the No. 2 overall seed for the 2017 NCAA Tournament, advanced to the NCAA regional semifinals for the 24th time in 27 trips by virtue of wins over Alabama State and Miami last weekend at the O’Connell Center.
As one of the top four overall seeds, the Gators (27-1), winners of 13 straight matches, now look to advance to the national semifinals for the eighth time overall and the first since 2003 when they host the Gainesville Regional today and Saturday.
Florida will open against No. 15 seed UCLA (21-10) of the Pac-12 at 4 p.m., followed by No. 7 seed Minnesota (28-5) of the Big Ten taking on another Pac-12 squad, No. 10 seed USC (24-9).
The UF-UCLA match will air live on ESPNU, and Saturday’s regional final between the two winners will also air live on the same network at 6 p.m.
“We understand how each round, how difficult it is to advance and know that there are some really talented players here this weekend in Gainesville,” UF coach Mary Wise said. “We know our volleyball fans will come out, but what we’re hoping also is that from the state of Florida and from this part of the country, there will be folks who may not have seen any of these four teams play but will take advantage to have this regional and this high level of competition to be in this part of the country and will come watch.”
UF is led by Southeastern Conference Player of the Year Rhamat Alhassan as well as fellow seniors Carli Snyder, Shainah Joseph and Caroline Knop and sophomore Rachael Kramer. All five were All-Region and All-SEC honorees.
“It’s such a great opportunity for us to be able to play in front of Gator Nation, and I know that’s a sign we’re all really excited about,” Snyder said. “It’s great not even having to travel anywhere. That is something that we’ve really been able to take advantage of here in Gainesville. We’re so excited to show Gator Nation some great volleyball.”
The Gainesville Regional is the only one where the top four seeds advanced.
At Penn State, the host Nittany Lions (31-1) were the only seed to advance in their regional and are one of three Big Ten teams in action. They will face Missouri (22-11) of the SEC at 2 p.m., followed by Michigan State (23-8) taking on Illinois (23-10).
At Stanford, No. 6 seed Texas (26-2) of the Big 12 Conference meets No. 11 seed Utah of the Pac-12 in the first match at 9 p.m., followed by another Pac-12 squad, the host Cardinal (28-3), facing off against another Big Ten squad in Wisconsin (22-9).
That leaves Lexington, where No. 4 seed Kentucky (28-3), one of three remaining SEC squads, plays No. 13 seed BYU (30-2) of the West Coast Conference, followed by No. 5 seed Nebraska (28-4) of the Big Ten meeting unseeded Colorado (24-9) of the Pac-12.
What: NCAA Regional Volleyball Semifinal
When: Today, Match 1, No. 15 UCLA (21-10) vs. No. 2 Florida (27-1), 4 p.m.
Match 2, No. 10 Southern Cal (24-9) vs. No. 7 Minnesota (28-5), 6 p.m.
Where: O’Connell Center
TV: ESPNU for Match 1
Radio: AM-850, 98.1-FM
Parking: Restrictions are lifted for the O’Connell Center garage, and all campus parking lot restrictions end at 3:30 p.m.
Tickets: All-session and single-match general admission tickets are still available. Students gain admission to all matches free with a valid Gator1 ID.
Saturday: Regional championship between Friday’s winners, 6 p.m. (ESPNU)
NOTES: There are four women’s coaches still alive in this year’s NCAA Tournament — one in each of the four regionals — all hoping to become the first to lead her team to an NCAA title. In addition to UF’s Wise, Michigan State’s Cathy George, Utah’s Beth Launiere and BYU’s Heather Olmstead are still in the hunt. Wise is the only one to coach a team to the NCAA Final, doing so in 2003 when the Aurymar Rodriguez-led Gators advanced to the final match before falling to USC.
It is a shame that the UF regional is the only bracket that had all seeds advance. As it turns out, they are in the toughest bracket (of course). Penn State, the top seed, gets the EASY road now. Not a single seed advanced in their bracket (of course).
Anyway, go Gators and hope to see you in the semis!!!