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Thursday December 7, 2006UF To Face No. 8 Seed Minnesota In NCAA Play On Friday

GAINESVILLE, Fla.

The seventh-ranked and ninth-seeded University of Florida volleyball team will be the underdog when the Gators host eighth-seeded Minnesota in a Regional Semifinal match in the Gainesville Regional of the NCAA Championship on Friday evening at 7 p.m. at the Stephen C. O’Connell Center.

 

Florida (30-2) enters the contest having won its last 22 matches this season and will face a Minnesota team (25-7) that has played in two of the last three Final Fours. The Gators are 12-2 all-time in regional semifinal contests and UF hasn’t lost at home in an NCAA match since 1995 when Texas defeated the Gators 3-2 to advance to the Final Four.

 

The opening contest of the regional pits No. 16 San Diego against No. 1 seed Nebraska at 4:30 p.m. on Friday. The winners of each match will then advance to Saturday’s 4 p.m. regional final where the teams will play for the right to advance to the 2006 Final Four in Omaha Dec. 14.

 

Tickets are still available for the Gainesville Regional and can be purchased by calling 1-800-34-GATOR or at the O'Connell Center Gate 1 box office beginning at 3:30 p.m. on Friday. Tickets are $15 for an adult (all-session), $10 for a student/senior (all-session) and $8 for youth 12 & under (all-session). Single day tickets are $10 (adults), $7 (student/seniors) and $5 (youth 12 & under).

 

The first 300 University of Florida students will be admitted to the contest for free on both Friday and Saturday. Students will need to enter the O'Connell Center at Gate 3.

 

Florida’s match will be carried live on Rock 104 and www.GatorZone.com and can be viewed for free via GatorVision Online.

 

Comments from Thursday’s open practice day press conferences are below:

 

 

San Diego

 

San Diego Interim Head Coach Brent Hilliard:

Opening remark:

“We’re excited to be here. It’s the second time in the last three years that we’ve made a Sweet 16. We’re looking to improve on what we’ve done in the past. We’re playing well right now and we expect our team to have a great Sweet 16 and hopefully move on.”

 

On facing Nebraska again:

“It’s actually kind of ideal. We’re excited about the chance to play any team that we’ve lost to. It’s an added chip on your shoulder when you’ve lost to a team. It gives you extra motivation. That’s not to say that Nebraska isn’t a great team – they’ve got some wonderful athletes and some great positional players. It’s definitely something where we’re looking forward to the challenge.”

 

On if the team had a feeling of “oh no” when they saw the NCAA draw:

“We’ve done that enough times over the last six years since I’ve been here. We’re done with the ‘oh no’s.” Whether we’re hosting or traveling – it really didn’t matter to us. It was more just excitement about being in the tournament and looking to go a step further.”

 

On what some of the previous ‘oh no’ teams were:

“It seems like we’ve faced just about every No. 1 seed every year. Last year was the exception playing UCLA at UCLA in the second round. We faced Long Beach State when they were No. 1 and USC when they were No. 1. We’re past that point. These players are experienced and they’ve played these teams multiple times whether it was during the regular season or a playoff capacity, so we’re ready.”

 

On the team’s travel schedule:

Atlanta is our favorite airport – we’re thinking about flying out of there as our hub all the time. In all seriousness, we’re fine with it. This year has been less about the stuff that we can’t control and more about what we can on the court. It didn’t affect us in Tennessee and I don’t expect it to here.

 

Kristen Carlson:

On if the team is different than when it played Nebraska earlier in the season:

“We’ve changed a lot. We’ve changed positions and had different outside hitters come in. On top of that, we’ve come together as a team and we’ve been practicing as one solid unit. We’ve changed a lot and it’s going to be good. The confidence is there.”

 

On what the team takes from the first match against Nebraska:

“We learned a lot from that match. On top of that, I remember a lot about how they play. Every time you play a team you learn from them. We’re so much better now and we’ll see where we can go.”

 

Christie Dawson:

On making it to the Sweet 16 again:

“It means a lot, especially having experienced the Sweet 16 before and how sweet it was. I feel like this year was different because I think we deserve to be here. We had a great win to be able to come here, but I think it was supposed to be that way and we’re hoping to get to the next level.”

 

 

Nebraska

 

Nebraska Head Coach John Cook:

Opening remark:

“We’re excited to be here. This is a big weekend for everybody. I actually saw an alligator this morning outside of my hotel, so I know we’re in Gator country. It was a real alligator – no kidding.”

 

On facing San Diego again:

They’ve moved a couple players around, so they’re a completely different look from when we played them. It’s a different time of the year and we are a lot better than we were when we played them the first time and I think their coach would say the same thing. They have a new libero now. They’ve made some changes. They played great last weekend and won their conference. They’ve had a tremendous season. I talked to Brent in Lincoln when we played them back in August and he really thought they would have a great team this year and he’s right.”

 

On how to stop San Diego’s Kristen Carlson:

“She’s averaging over five kills per game, so if you want to be in the ball game, you have to slow her down. We’ve got a couple ways that we’re working on that. They run a lot of middle and Dawson and Abrahamson are both averaging more than three kills per game as middles, so you have to defend their middle attack as well. It’s pretty clear if you look at their stats who’s getting the most kills.”

 

On what his message to the team is:

“We tell them two plus two equals four. It’s simple. We know what we need to do, we just go out and do it. You probably simplify it more this time of year. They know what they need to do. They’ve heard the scouting reports over and over all year long. We have a very veteran team. They played in the national championship last year. They know what it takes and now it’s a matter of letting the big dogs run – that’s what I always tell them.”

 

On if the team changes its practice habits:

“It’s the same routine, just a little shorter. You’ve got to zero in on your reps. The time you have goes by really quickly.”

 

On if the team is playing at the level he thought it could:

“I try not to get caught up in where I think we should be or where we can be. I think it’s a journey every day. You work on making those kids and that team the best they can be and where they end up is the path they’re going to take. I try not to place expectations on this group. You try to show them and teach them what to do to play their best as a team. They certainly have done a tremendous job of embracing that and working towards that and that’s why I think we’ve had such a successful season.”

 

Dani Busboom:

On facing San Diego again:

“I remember that they didn’t have very many errors and they kept the ball in play. It was a pretty fact paced game. They’re a smart team and they’ll be a challenge for us. Every team from now will be a challenge. I think we’re looking forward to playing them again.”

 

On being a veteran on the team and what she tells the younger players:

“Mainly to have confidence and have fun and don’t let little things get you down. If you make an error, it’s easy to let it snowball. We’re all here – all the older girls are backing them up and we trust them just as much as we trust ourselves.”

 

On if she has a sense of urgency in her last go-rounds:

“It’s the last chance I’ve got, so I’m going to do everything I can to help the team win. It’s a matter of going out there, being intense, staying in the moment and enjoying it. If you don’t enjoy it you’re not going to win.”

 

On the support of her family:

“My family’s been unreal. At every home match I’ve had almost 10 family members. They buy tickets to every match and they come. I think my parents have missed only four matches home and away since I’ve been a freshman. They’ve made it a priority to come watch me play and support me. When I’m feeling down they don’t baby me – they tell me how it is. They’ve definitely been a gigantic part of my career here.”

 

Rachel Schwartz:

On being in Gainesville:

“This is my first regional away from Nebraska and you realize that you have to bring your best game here.”

 

On blocking out nerves:

“I had this conversation with someone earlier this year. It’s just a matter of keeping faith in yourself and making sure that you remember how good you can play. Michael Jordan said that he sees outside distractions and fear as an illusion. That’s what I do. I see myself breaking through and wanting to make big plays.”

 

On what she’s been through as a former walk-on:

“This has been my dream and that’s what kept me going. I have a vision of where I want to be and how good I want to be. That’s what drives me, along with the other players and coaches. Your teammates are a huge part of your life now. You have to keep everything in perspective for them.”

 

 

Florida

 

Florida Head Coach Mary Wise:

Opening remark:

“Even though 15 of the 16 seeded teams advanced there are no givens in our championship. As evidenced by some of the scores from some of the top 25 teams last week you get to the point where you win and you move on. You’re thrilled to be here. That’s where we are today.”

 

On the advantage of hosting a regional:

“It’s an advantage if we play well and our team has played well at home all season. But, as we know, in the tournament you hope that you’re playing your best volleyball of the year and that you get decent matchups. I think that’s true of all teams in all sports. And then you hope you’re healthy. So, there’s some things you control and there’s some things you can’t.”

 

On the overall health of the team and Amber McCray:

“Amber’s shoulder injury is no different than it was in September and she’s been able to figure out how to play and practice with it. Now that we’re toward the end of the season and there’s nothing to hold back, I think Amber will be just fine. Health-wise, we’re in a pretty good position.”

 

On if the match on Friday will have a different feel:

“I can answer that in terms of what last weekend was last. It was an NCAA match and that felt very much the same in terms of the crowd and the enthusiasm. It was the same for a big match. You’re in the NCAA Tournament and there’s a different feel for it. For the players on the 16 teams that are left – this is what they practice and prepare all year for is to get to this point. I’d like to think it’s special.”

 

On facing Minnesota:

“It’s a team with four seniors and so much of their success comes from the leadership of that senior class. The challenge of playing in the Big Ten and the types of teams that they’ve have to face on consecutive nights – they are battle tested. Whether it’s an NCAA event or a regular season match, they’re used to playing in front of big crowds. We think it’s going to be an awesome match.”

 

On being the underdog:

“The reality is that we’re the No. 9 seed and we’re playing the No. 8 seed, so in terms of the seeding, we are the underdog. That’s not a place we get to be very often. If we can have some fun with it we will.”

 

Angie McGinnis:

On if playing at home on a different surface than normal (Sport Court) will have an effect:

“I would say that there is a difference in playing on a Sport Court as opposed to a normal court. But all of us have played on it so many times that I don’t think it will make a big difference. We’ll get out there today for practice and see how it goes.”

 

Amber McCray:

On what it’s like to play with a sore shoulder:

“It’s partially a pain tolerance. It’s just something that I’ve gotten used to because I know that it’s going to be there, so I just try to work through it. It may be a little bit sore at the beginning of matches, but during matches it feels great. I’m not sure if it’s the intensity of everything during the match, but it feels great.”

 

 

Minnesota

Minnesota Head Coach Mike Hebert:

Opening remarks:

“We’re here and nothing is guaranteed no matter where you’re seeded. We survived a very difficult match against St. John’s and we’re back in the Sweet 16 – life is good.”

 

On if the 2004 match against Florida will help in any way:

“I’m not much of a believer in carry over. Both teams will head out there tomorrow night and figure out who they are and what they have to do to get better in the match. Each match has it’s own life.”

 

On whether or not you worry about what the opponent does or if you just try and do what your team does well:

“Both teams are very patterned. Defensively, I think both teams will be prepared to stop the other. As usual, it will come down to who can serve and pass and most matches do boil down to who does that better. They know who we like to set and we know who they like to set. Other than serve and pass, the rest of the match will settle in as a wash. Both teams are good blocking teams, both teams are very physical at the net and both teams play pretty good defense.”

 

On if the St. John’s match helped his team:

“Every team that goes deep into the tournament has a match like the St. John’s match. I looked back over the years and even teams who have won national championships have gone to five with a team that nobody expected to play that well. The St. John’s match and our ability to survive that and win a fifth game in the NCAA Tournament helps our confidence quite a bit.”

 

Meredith Nelson:

On being in the Gainesville Regional :

“We’re excited about it. There’s four quality teams here. There’s a lot of good volleyball that’s going to be played this weekend and it’ll be exciting for everyone.”

 

On the 3-2 win against St. John’s in the second round and how that helps the team :

“It taught us a lot about how to play at the end of a match, especially a tight match like that. We learned how to be aggressive and it built character. As much as we were nervous about going five games – in the end it helped us.”

 

On the great seasons that the senior class has put together:

“We’ve had a lot of success in the past. Obviously, that doesn’t determine anything now. We know that we’ve got to come out and practice hard and play hard every day in order to continue that success that we’ve seen before in the program. It’s exciting and we like to look toward that for experience and carry that over to matches now.”

 

On playing Florida:

“It’s going to be a very tough task. Florida’s a great team and they have great crowds here. We’re excited and we’re ready to go.”

 

On if she thinks about playing in her last match :

“That thought always enters your mind. Even at the beginning of the season – you think, ‘This is my last preseason.’ That thought enters your mind, but it’s not something that you want to dwell on. We need to leave everything we have on the floor and everyone that’s still playing volleyball right now is doing the same thing. “

 

On if the team is playing better now than it was at the beginning of the season:

“We’ve experienced a lot as a team and learned from those experiences. We’ve gone through some tough practices and tough matches as a team. I think that’s really helped get us to where we are today. We always talk about improving every match we play and we’re just looking to continue on that path of improvement.”

 

Malama Peniata:

On the 3-2 win against St. John’s in the second round and how that helps the team :

“It was really helpful for us to get that out of our system and be able to play a team that gave all their heart. It was tough for us and it was tough for them, but we just tried to play with our heart as well and be aggressive in the end. I think that will lead into this weekend.”

 

On the great seasons that the senior class has put together:

“I think having that built our confidence and knowledge and we can bring that to the younger players on our team.”

 

On the Big Ten getting five teams to the Sweet 16:

“It just shows how tough our conference is to play in every night. We’re really proud of all the teams in our conference.”

 

On if she thinks about playing in her last match :

“Yes because it’s coming to the end of the season. Every night we want to leave everything out on the floor, especially as seniors. We try to relay that message to the younger players as well.”

 

On if the team is playing better now than it was at the beginning of the season:

“We have definitely developed as a team and learned how to compete during the Big Ten season. We’re just trying to reach our peak at the end of the season.”

 

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