By Mike Vietti
The 1992 University of Florida volleyball team will forever be synonymous with the word "first" for obvious reasons.
The 1992 Gator squad was the first UF team to win the Southeastern Conference regular season title. They were the first UF team to claim the SEC Tournament title. They were the first to advance past the regional semifinals of the NCAA Championship. It was the first team to have the SEC Player of the Year. The 1992 squad was the first to have more than one All-American. They were the … well, you get the idea.
That list could go on and on and on, but it does hammer home this point: the volleyball powerhouse that currently is the University of Florida didn't exist in 1992.
But that 1992 squad certainly laid the foundation for what was to come.
"Mary would come into every pre-game meeting and tell us that we did something that no other Florida team had every done," said Heidi (Anderson) Engel, the All-American setter for the Gators in 1992. "Looking back, that was what turned out to be the theme of year and it built on itself throughout the season."
For the first time in Florida history, the Gators were awarded an NCAA Regional and No. 4 UF (32-1) welcomed No. 11 Texas (28-5), No. 12 LSU (26-8) and No. 17 Kentucky (25-8) to Gainesville.
The Longhorns claimed a 3-1 victory against the Tigers to begin the regional as Texas won 15-9, 13-15, 15-12, 15-4 to move on to the regional final. Fittingly enough, the match ended with a block from Katy Jameyson, who led all players with nine blocks in the game as Texas held LSU to just .048 hitting. Jameyson was the only Longhorn in double figures in kills with 10 as Texas racked up 22.0 total blocks. Angie Miller paced the Tigers with 15 kills.
The Gators took on Kentucky for the second time of the season in a match that pitted UF coach Mary Wise against her former boss in Wildcat head coach Kathy DeBoer. The Gators claimed a tight 3-1 victory earlier in the season and that helped them to a 15-13, 15-10, 16-14 sweep of the Wildcats in front of 2,519 fans.
"It had sort of a weird feeling to it because we knew that Mary had recruited a lot of the players at Kentucky," Anderson said.
If there was anything weird about the match, it was UF All-American Gudula Staub's line of 16 kills and 27 digs in only three games. Suzanne Hughes paced the Gators with 18 kills, while Anderson added 59 assists and 16 digs. Krista Robinson led the Wildcats with 12 kills.
That set the stage for a Texas-Florida showdown. The Gators had ended UT's season in 1991 in the second round and would eventually run that streak to four straight years until Texas turned the tide in the 1995 NCAA Championship.
"If there was a school that you wanted to play just in terms of having a highly competitive match and the match being fun to play - during that era, Texas was the team you'd want to play," Anderson said.
The Gators got their wish from that standpoint and the 2,656 fans were treated to a tremendous match. Texas took the first two games 15-8 and 16-14 before the Gators rallied to capture the final three games 15-6, 15-2 and 15-11 and earn their first trip to the Final Four. Anderson collected 48 assists and 20 digs and Staub and Gokberk had stellar matches with 18 and 17 kills, respectively. The Gators out-hit Texas .201-.101 and had a whopping 102 digs in the match.
"We were absolutely elated and we didn't want that night to end," Anderson said. "The crowd was a huge part of the win. Without their tremendous support, I don't know if we would have come back from being behind 0-2."
Florida moved on to its first Final Four in Albuquerque where the Gators ran into No. 1 UCLA and fell 12-15, 12-15, 10-15.
Still, for a team that finished with a 15-16 record just two seasons prior, the 1992 Gators accomplished plenty of firsts - enough to last a lifetime.
"It was definitely a sign," Anderson said, "of what Florida volleyball was going to become in the future."
1992 Gainesville Regional
No. 5 Florida def. No. 17 Kentucky 15-13, 15-10, 16-14
No. 11 Texas def. No. 12 LSU 15-9, 13-15, 15-12, 15-4
No. 5 Florida def. No. 11 Texas 8-15, 14-16, 15-6, 15-2, 15-11
Gainesville Regional All-Tournament Team
Eunice Thomsas - Kentucky
Katy Jameyson - Texas
Errica Hibben - Texas
Heidi Anderson - Florida
Aycan Gokberk - Florida
Gudula Staub - Florida