NCAA volleyball tournament: Gators down FAMU for win No. 1,000 for Mary Wise
The No. 16-seed Florida volleyball team defeated Florida A&M University in straight sets – 25-11, 25-14, 25-7 — in the NCAA tournament first-round match Thursday night at the Exactech Arena.
The victory marked win No. 1,000 for Florida coach Mary Wise, who just concluded her 31st regular season with the UF program in her 35th year as a Division I head coach. The Gators have made the NCAA Tournament every season under Wise, the third-longest streak in the nation behind Penn State (41) and Nebraska (39).
“I’m just trying to get to 1,001,” Wise said after the win. “Not trying to be flippant at all, but that truly is the most important thing.”
The Gators (21-8) will take on the University of Miami (25-4) at 7 p.m. Friday in the second round after the Hurricanes downed South Alabama (25-7) in four sets earlier Thursday.
The first set was tied at 3-3 early before the Gators went on a commanding 16-3 scoring run to pull away from the Rattlers (25-7) and claim the first set.
“We knew we were the underdogs and we wanted to come in and play relaxed volleyball, try to cause them some trouble,” FAMU coach Gokhan Yilmaz said, “but their serving overpowered us a little bit.”
The second set was back and forth until UF closed on a 15-4 run, setting up a third set that the Gators managed to win comfortably.
“I think just overall controlling the pace of the game on our side. The serve and the passing is a major component of that, and I thought tonight our serving was really, really good,” senior outside hitter Thayer Hall said. “I think that we’ve taken huge strides throughout the season and watched that all come together tonight.”
The match marked Florida’s first without All-SEC outside hitter T’ara Ceasar, who announced Monday via her Instagram account that she was stepping away from the team “to focus on my mental and physical health before transitioning out of school.” Ceasar registered double-digit kills in 23 matches during Florida’s regular season but her redshirt senior season ended in disappointment as she exited UF’s loss Nov. 27 to No. 8-ranked Kentucky with an apparent ankle injury.
In the team’s first game without Ceasar, Wise said the Gators discussed it as a collective, are fully in support of the decision of their teammate and that the message quickly turned to who would step up in Ceasar’s place.
“We’re supportive of what she needs to do, what’s in her best interest right now and that we support that,” Wise said. “Whether it was T or somebody else, we will support a player that’s part of our program, and that these returning players took it as ‘OK, next woman up’, and that happened to be Sofia.”
In Ceasar’s absence, Sofia Victoria led the Gators with 13 kills, seven digs and two blocks while being in on 27 of Florida’s 80 attacks on the night, and Hill provided 11 kills of her own and finished with a team-high nine digs.
“Sofia especially has done such a good job taking on a bigger role,” Wise said of the sophomore. “She took full advantage, and everybody around her certainly helped.”
With the first test out of the way, the Gators now look to overcome the Hurricanes in the second round, which Wise anticipates posing a far greater challenge for UF for reasons not entirely related to the opposition.
“Some of the toughest matches we have been in every year and every tournament is the second-round match,” Wise said. “The quick turnaround, both teams coming off of a win. Expect tomorrow night to be an incredibly tough battle against a very talented Miami team.”