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Sunday November 30, 2008Volleyball Begins NCAA Quest on Friday vs. FAMU

Gainesville, FL

For the 18th consecutive season and the 19th time in program history, the No. 14/12 University of Florida volleyball team is among the NCAA Tournament field of 64, earning a bid to volleyball’s version of the “Big Dance” announced late Sunday evening. The Gators, who earned the No. 15 overall seed, begin their title quest on Friday in Gainesville playing host to Florida A&M at 7:30 p.m. EST in the Stephen C. O’Connell Center.


This marks the 17th time in the last 18 years that the Gators (25-3, 18-2 Southeastern Conference) have played host to opening-round contests. Florida welcomes Colorado State, Florida A&M and Florida International to Gainesville for this season’s first and second round matches. Colorado State and FIU square off at 5 p.m. EST Friday, while the second-round match-up is slated for 7:30 p.m. EST Saturday evening. The winner advances to the Colorado State regional in Ft. Collins, Colo.


Ticket packages for both days may be purchased in advance through the Gator Ticket Office for $10 for adults, $6 for students and senior citizens and $4 for children 12 and under. Single-session tickets also may be purchased beginning the day of the match for $7 for adults, $5 for students and senior citizens and $4 for children 12 and under.


“Any team that has the opportunity to play at home, history has shown, has a real advantage,” Florida head coach Mary Wise said. “I think the growth of the level of play in the field of women’s volleyball is indicated throughout the bracket.”


The Gators are coming off their 18th consecutive SEC title after posting a hard-fought five-set victory at South Carolina last Wednesday night and then concluding the regular season with a 3-0 sweep at UNLV on Saturday night.


Florida is led by freshman right-side/setter Kelly Murphy (Wilmington, Ill.), who ranks sixth in the SEC in kills per set with 3.29 and second in the league in hitting efficiency with a .360 clip. She also leads the team in total points (386.0) and is second in assists per set (5.58/set) and digs per set (1.89/set). Redshirt freshman outside hitter Kristy Jaeckel (Littleton, Colo.) is 10th in the league with 3.04 kills per set, while freshman outside hitter Colleen Ward (Naperville, Ill.) follows with 2.34 kills per set.


Junior libero Elyse Cusack (Melrose, Fla.), the school’s all-time career digs leader, on Saturday became the first player in school history to eclipse the 1,600-dig mark for her career. She currently ranks second in the SEC in digs per set with 4.69 and is third in service aces with 0.39.


Florida A&M captured its eighth consecutive Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference title this season with a 3-2 win against Maryland Eastern Shore in the league tournament championship game. The Rattlers enter Friday’s match with a 14-12 overall record, including a 7-1 mark in MEAC play.


FAMU features one of the smallest rosters (by number of players) in NCAA Division I volleyball with just eight players on the squad. Despite the lack of depth, the Rattlers have been the MEAC’s most successful team for nearly a decade behind head coach Tony Trifonov, an eight-time MEAC Outstanding Coach of the Year recipient.


The 2008 edition is led by sophomore outside hitter Jovana Blazeski, a 6-foot-2 player from Belgrade, Serbia, who averages a squad-best 3.81 kills per set and 3.01 digs per set. Senior middle blocker Samara Ferraz, a 6-foot-1 athlete from Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, was named the 2008 MEAC Outstanding Performer. She averages 3.72 kills per set on a squad-best .332 hitting with a team-high 0.45 blocks per set.


“FAMU is a team that is used to winning and is used to being in the tournament,” Wise said. “We have run into them often in the past and know that every team that makes the NCAA tournament is coming off of a great season.”


The Gators are 47-18 (.723) all-time in NCAA Championship action, including a 46-17 (.730) mark under Wise’s direction. Florida has advanced to regional action in 16 of Wise’s previous 17 seasons and has reached the national semifinal on seven occasions during that span.


The top 16 teams were seeded nationally and placed within four regions. The teams tabbed as the top four seeds were No. 1 Penn State; No. 2 Stanford; No. 3 Texas; and No. 4 Nebraska.


The Pacific-10 Conference led all conferences with six teams selected.  The Big Ten Conference and West Coast Conference garnered five teams each in the field while the Big 12 Conference and the SEC each have four teams in the tournament.


Florida, Kentucky, Tennessee and LSU all were selected to the 2008 NCAA Tournament field with the Wildcats also hosting first and second round action in Lexington, Ky. The SEC has had at least four teams advance to the NCAA Tournament in four consecutive years.


In the 27-year history of the championship, 10 schools have been crowned champion, nine of which are in this year’s bracket, including the defending champion Penn State.


Additional past winners making the field are Stanford (1992, 94, 96, 97, 2001, 04), University of Hawaii, Manoa (1982, 83, 87), Long Beach State (1989, 93, 98), UCLA (1984, 90, 91), Nebraska (1995, 2000, and 2006), University of Southern California (1981, 2002, 03), Penn State (1999, 2007), Texas (1988) and Washington (2005).


Complete results and a recap of Friday’s match will be available at



·         The Gators are 47-18 (.723) in the NCAA Championship, including a 46-17 (.730) mark under head coach Mary Wise.

·         UF has made 18 consecutive and 19 overall NCAA Championship appearances (1987, 1991-2007).

·         The Gators have advanced to regional action in 16 of Wise's 17 seasons and reached the national semifinal seven times in the last 17 years.

·         UF is one of only four schools to make at least seven national semifinal appearances in the past 17 years.

·         UF has appeared in seven national semifinal matches since 1992, the most of any East Coast school.

·         UF players have earned 34 NCAA All-Region Team honors, including five MVPs.



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