AUSTIN, Texas -- When the Gators volleyball team arrived at practice here on Thursday senior Tangerine Wiggs received an early birthday gift.
While her teammates had no idea who the woman in the bright pink shirt inside Gregory Gym was, Wiggs knew right away. She recognized the woman even before Florida's coaches.
Wiggs grew up in Seattle and as a teenager became a huge fan of the University of Washington's volleyball team and outside hitter Sanja Tomasevic. Tomasevic earned national player of the year awards as a senior in leading the Huskies to the 2005 national title.
Wiggs, a fifth-year senior who celebrated her 23rd birthday on Friday, got to meet Tomasevic on Thursday when the former Washington star spoke to the Gators at the end of practice.
"I was so excited,'' Wiggs said. "I told her, 'you were my idol. I used to go to all of your games growing up.' She was such a great player."
After a seven-year professional career overseas, Tomasevic is back in the U.S. and took a job as an assistant coach at the University of Texas-San Antonio in June. She is in town for the NCAA Austin Regional that opens tonight with Southern Cal facing Wichita State, and then Florida and Texas playing at 8 p.m. ET.
During her career at Washington, the Huskies lost in the Sweet 16 and Elite 8 before finally breaking through to win the school's first national title her senior year.
Her message to the Gators was to leave everything on the court and to leave Austin with no regrets, win or lose.
NO MORE PAMPERS
While her current team has little history against Texas other than for an early season match in the Nike Big Four Classic, Florida coach Mary Wise once faced the Longhorns regularly in the NCAA Tournament.
In fact, the Gators knocked Texas out of the NCAA Tournament in Wise's first four seasons from 1991-94. The Longhorns returned the favor in 1995 and again in 2007 after a long break in the rivalry.
"They were just great volleyball matches,'' Wise said. "There is such great history."
Wise is a good friend of former Texas coach Mick Haley, who is also at the Austin Regional with his USC team. In the days before national seeding when Florida and Texas played five consecutive years in the tournament, Wise and Haley developed a friendly rivalry.
They had more in common than volleyball: both were parents of newborns in the early 1990s.
Wise recalled how they arranged baby sitters at their matches.
"There is a room somewhere here in Gregory Gym where the kids stayed while the matches were going on,'' Wise said. "True story."