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Friday December 6, 2013 Chloe Mann's career one worth a final salute

Updated: 9:27am, December 7

Chloe Mann

Senior Chloe Mann turns to walk off the court Friday for the final time with the Gators. (Photo: Tim Casey).

GAINESVILLE, Fla. – When you scribble about sports for a living, you come across all kinds of athletes.

Some impress you for no other reason than their athletic gifts. Others catch your attention more for their human qualities. There are some you enjoy mostly because they are colorful characters and a good quote.

On the flip side, there are those that you would rather chew on a bag of nails than have to talk to.

I don’t mind saying Barry Bonds was one of those for me when I covered baseball – and I’m sure I’m not the only member of that club. Three different times our paths crossed in one-on-one settings and none were particularly enjoyable, even the one at a feel-good event at a Tampa church.

And then there are those that seem to have the perfect blend of athletic competence, personality and human dignity.

Chloe Mann certainly fits into that category for me.

I  know Mann only through covering the UF volleyball team the past four seasons. Every time I talked to her, I came away impressed.

As for what she can do on a volleyball court, well, her gifts in that arena left everyone impressed.

In her final match for the Gators on Friday night, Mann had a typical performance: 14 kills, a .448 hitting percentage and some key points in Florida’s five-set loss (15-25, 25-20, 25-22, 22-25, 9-15) to Florida State in the second round of the NCAA Tournament.

The loss was a heartbreaking one for the Gators. Instead of a trip to the Sweet 16 for the ninth consecutive season, the Gators are done.

A few minutes after the match ended, Mann and Florida head coach Mary Wise quietly walked up to the podium and addressed the small throng of media.

Wise did most of the talking as Mann sat next to her with her eyes locked downward.

It didn’t take Wise long to share her thoughts on her senior leader.

“I’m so sorry for Chloe that her career would have to end like this,’’ Wise said. “Chloe is going to walk away with an incredible record over her four years. This one will hurt for a while, but she has certainly left her mark on Gator volleyball and there will be lots of opportunities to celebrate that.”

I say why wait.

Mann is a rarity during Wise’s 23-year tenure as Florida’s head coach, a Gainesville kid who decided to stay home and star for the local university. She certainly could have gone other places to play volleyball. She could have gone to other places to be a star student. highlighted Mann earlier this season in this story.

In an age when the term “student-athlete” takes its fair share of abuse, Mann is example of what that term really means.

Earlier this year her former high school, Gainesville’s Eastside High, held a ceremony to retire her jersey. That is an honor you might expect later in life for a college athlete, but that shows how much respect Mann has earned in her young lifetime.

The 2012 SEC Player of the Year, Mann has already earned her undergraduate degree and is currently working on a master’s. Perhaps she will play volleyball professionally, maybe not.

Regardless, it’s not difficult to imagine Mann’s success continuing long after her playing days are finished.

In Mann’s final match, the Gators lost because the Seminoles played better, avenging their 2010 NCAA Tournament loss in five sets to the Gators.

“They played with so much effort and intensity, made the plays tonight to deserve to win,’’ Wise said. “They had a sense of urgency and they made the plays we weren’t able to.”

After a few minutes at the postgame media session, Mann took her only question. She turned her moist eyes upward.

“They played really well,” she said. “We were both fighting for our lives and they played really tough. Our team was fighting until the end. I’m proud of our effort. It wasn’t enough tonight.”

Her final quote in a Gators uniform was standard fare for a sports scribbler. It won’t make the list of famous sports quotes that was shown on the O’Connell Center’s video screen throughout Friday’s match.

The pain and disappointment were too raw for deep reflection. However, in time she will smile when reflecting on her time with the Gators.

She had a great run, one that simply ended sooner than expected.

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