Florida volleyball is back: Newcomers and transfers help Gators gear up for 2022 season

Ainslie Lee
Gator Sports

There will be lots of new faces this season on the Florida Gators volleyball team, which ranks 15th in the American Volleyball Coaches Association's preseason poll, this season. 

However, Mary Wise is not one of them. 

Wise, who enters in her 32nd season at the helm of the Gators' program, collected her 1,000th career victory last year in a season that saw UF go 22-9 before making a third-round exit in the NCAA region final.

After three and a half decades of coaching college volleyball, Wise admits that she doesn't change much in terms of her personal preparation. Yet when her team changes, she's forced to adapt with it. 

"On a volleyball team, you can have just one new player and it changes a team," Wise said. "So to have half of your lineup new ... and the novelty is what's so fun. Watching the players when they first come in, until they leave ... that hasn't changed. The only thing that has changed is the people."

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And boy, has this team changed since last fall. 

Here are three ways the Gators will look different this season. 

Florida head coach Mary Wise talks during a timeout against the North Florida Ospreys at Exactech Arena in Gainesville, on Friday, Aug. 26, 2022.

Florida roster loaded with newcomers

UF graduated five players last year in T'ara Ceasar, Lauren Dooley, Lauren Forte, Thayer Hall and Marlie Monserez. Of the five, three led stat categories in 2021. 

But the Gators — who opened the regular season with a victory over North Florida on Friday night — have reloaded. 

"It's really special this year. Everyone on the team truly wants what's best for each other. And we all have the same mindset," said sophomore right side hitter Merritt Beason. "Refreshing is a really good way to put this team."

With five outgoing, Wise and Gators have brought in eight new players in 2022 — five freshmen and three seasoned transfers.

While bringing in so many new names in one offseason will be deemed as a disadvantage by some, Beason doesn't look at it that way.

"The way we're looking at it is there's so much room for growth," Beason said. 

Carlie Hendrickson, Emerson Hoyle, Alexis Stucky, Emily Canaan and Amaya Thomas make up the crop of rookies, while AC Fitzpatrick, Marina Markova and Rhett Robinson all have college experience from different programs across the U.S. 

Florida Gators outside hitter Merritt Beason (13) against the North Florida Ospreys at Exactech Arena in Gainesville, on Friday, Aug. 26, 2022. The Gators won the opener in four sets.

Transfers help with experience

The jump from high school and club volleyball to Division I volleyball in the SEC is a big one. 

Considering the Gators have five players making that jump in 2022, Florida will lean on those who have collegiate playing experience, even though three of those players weren't playing in Gainesville last season. 

Senior outside hitter Marina Markova, who spent the first three years of her college career at Syracuse, drew early praise from Wise. 

"She definitely has a lot of potential to leave her name all over this year's stat book," Wise said, albeit adding that Markova might not be available for the Gators' opening weekend. 

Meanwhile, Ocala native AC Fitzpatrick returns to Central Florida after spending her first two seasons at Penn State. And the Gators couldn't be happier to have the junior outside hitter back home. 

"The best way I can describe her is like a ball of fire," Beason said of Fitzpatrick. "She brings a lot of energy to this team and I think that, for as calm of a team as we are, that adds a huge element for this team. She's going to be a great addition."

Graduate transfer outside hitter and right side Rhett Robinson is also primed for a big season after spending her first four years at North Texas, where she played major roles for the Mean Green. 

Florida Gators setter Birdie Hendrickson (1), middle blocker Bre Kelley (9), libero Elli McKissock (23), and libero Emily Canaan (7) celebrate after a point during the match against the North Florida Ospreys at Exactech Arena in Gainesville, on Friday, Aug. 26, 2022.

Caroline Knop returns to Gainesville

For Caroline Knop, it's not an arrival to Gainesville, but rather a return. And it all started with a sarcastic comment on the recruiting trail while former Florida assistant Skylar Lopas was in the interviewing process for the head coaching job at Flagler College, where he was hired in April.

Knop jokingly asked Wise when she was going to bring her back to Gainesville. 

"What she didn't know was that I took her seriously," Wise said.

Knop played for the Gators from 2016 to 2017 after playing her first two seasons at the University of Michigan. At UF, Knop helped lead the Gators to a championship berth in 2017 as the Gators' starting libero. 

After graduation, Knop spent three seasons as an assistant coach at the College of Charleston before returning to Florida as the Gators' volunteer assistant coach. 

The addition of Knop was announced on July 25. And in just one short month, Knop is already making an impact on the Gators' program. 

Beason says knowing that Knop has been in the exact shoes that Florida's players stand in brings the Gators comfort and invaluable knowledge. 

"She has changed this program and this team so much already," Beason said. "It's just so nice having someone who was in our shoes just a few years ago. They way that she can break things down and teach things to us makes so much sense because she was in our shoes."