Sunday November 28, 2010Volleyball Earns Program's First-Ever NCAA No. 1 Seed
Riding a 22-match win streak and having earned the program’s first-ever No. 1 seed, the No. 1 University of Florida volleyball team is among the NCAA Tournament field of 64 for the 20th consecutive season and the 21st time in program history, earning a berth to volleyball’s version of the Big Dance, announced Sunday afternoon.
The Gators, who earned the tournament’s top seed, begin their title quest on Friday in Gainesville, playing host to South Carolina State at 7:30 p.m. ET in the Stephen C. O’Connell Center. Florida State and Georgia Southern will square off in the first match of the day at 5 p.m. ET Friday. The second-round contest will be played Saturday at 7:30 p.m.
Florida (27-1, 20-0 Southeastern Conference, the 2010 SEC Champion, is coming off one of its finest regular seasons in program history. The Gators, who have held the No. 1 ranking in the American Volleyball Coaches Association poll for a school-record seven consecutive weeks, on Friday became the first team in league history to post a 20-0 SEC record as the conference instituted a 20-match double-round robin format prior to the start of the 2006 season. It marked the 12th perfect SEC season in program history and the Gators’ first since 2003.
“I don’t think the selection announcement could come soon enough for these players,” Florida head coach Mary Wise said. “They’ve been looking forward to it and talking about it since our Friday-night match. To be the No. 1 seed is a reflection of our early non-conference wins and the fact that we went through a complete double round-robin – 20 matches – really without stumbling along the way. The committee gave us that No. 1 seed as a reflection of that in a year where there is so much parity that you could make a great argument for any one of seven or eight teams to be the No. 1 seed.”
This marks the 19th time in the last 20 years that the Gators have played host to opening-round contests. The four participating teams are vying for a berth in the Austin, Texas, regional, which will take place Dec. 10-11 at Gregory Gymnasium.
Florida, which has been rated No. 1 in the Ratings Percentage Index (RPI) for the entire season, has extended its nation-leading streak of consecutive 25-win seasons to 20. The Gators, who have played perhaps the nation’s toughest schedule, boast a record of 10-1 against top-25 opponents this year.
The top-16 teams were seeded nationally and placed within four regions. In addition to Florida, the teams tabbed as the top four seeds were No. 2 Nebraska, No. 3 Stanford and No. 4 Penn State.
The Gators are 51-20 (.718) all-time in the NCAA Championship, including a 50-19 (.725) mark under Wise’s direction. Florida has advanced to NCAA regional action in 18 of Wise’s previous 19 seasons and has reached the national semifinal on seven occasions during that span.
In the 29-year history of the championship, 10 schools have been crowned champion, nine of which are among this year’s bracket, including three-time defending NCAA Champion Penn State.
Additional past winners making the field are Stanford (1992, 94, 96, 97, 2001, 04), Hawaii (1982, 83, 87), Long Beach State (1989, 93, 98), UCLA (1984, 90, 91), Nebraska (1995, 2000, and 06), Southern California (1981, 2002, 03), Penn State (1999, 2007, 08, 09), Texas (1988) and Washington (2005).
Six SEC teams made the 2010 field, including No. 11 seed Tennessee, Auburn, Kentucky, LSU and Ole Miss. Seven additional teams from Florida’s 2010 schedule made the NCAA Tournament field, including the University at Albany, Colorado State, Florida State, Iowa State, Nebraska, Penn State and Texas. In total, 16 of the Gators’ 28 matches this season came against teams in the 2010 NCAA Tournament field.
Florida is led offensively by junior right-side/setter Kelly Murphy (Wilmington, Ill.), who is the only player to rank among the SEC’s top-10 individually (all matches combined) in hitting percentage, service aces per set and kills per set simultaneously. Murphy leads the SEC with 0.39 service aces per set, while ranking fourth in hitting efficiency with a .370 clip and ninth in kills per set with 3.05.
“We know that everything we’ve been doing so far has been working towards something and we’ve achieved everything that we’ve set out to do so far this season,” Murphy said. “We know if we keep our focus and mindset that we’ve had from the beginning, we can achieve the goals that we set this season.”
Senior outside hitter Callie Rivers (Winter Park, Fla.) and junior outside hitter Kristy Jaeckel (Littleton, Colo.) follow with 2.58 and 2.49 kills per set, respectively. Rivers is second on the team with 2.26 digs per set and ranks third in the SEC with 0.31 service aces per set, while Jaeckel is 10th in the league with 0.26 aces per set.
Senior libero Erin Fleming (Orlando, Fla.) ranks eighth in the SEC with 3.59 digs per set, while freshman setter Chanel Brown (Tempe, Ariz.) dishes out a squad-best 5.63 assists per set.
Three Gators average better than 0.95 blocks per set, led by junior middle blocker Cassandra Anderson (Bakersfield, Calif.), who leads the SEC with 1.24 blocks per set. Senior middle blocker Lauren Bledsoe (Long Beach, Calif.) is fifth in the SEC with 1.09 blocks per set and also ranks third in the league with a .395 hitting efficiency. Sophomore right-side Tangerine Wiggs (Seattle, Wash.) chips in 0.97 blocks per set.
South Carolina State, which won the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference, is making the school’s first-ever NCAA Tournament appearance. The Lady Bulldogs hold a record of 17-22 overall and finished with a 6-2 tally in MEAC play. South Carolina State captured the MEAC Tournament on Nov. 21 with a four-set win against Delaware State to earn the league’s NCAA automatic bid. After struggling to begin the season, the Lady Bulldogs have won nine of their last 11 matches.
South Carolina State was the MEAC’s leading blocking team (all matches combined), averaging 1.88 blocks per set. The Lady Bulldogs are led offensively by senior outside hitter Jarne Gleaton, who leads the MEAC with 3.46 kills per set and also adds 1.97 digs per set. Sophomore middle blocker Shabree Roberson and freshman middle blocker Desire Waller follow with 2.37 and 2.28 kills per set, respectively.
Junior setter Bria Brimmer leads the MEAC with 9.23 assists per set, while also ranking first on the team and eighth in the MEAC with 0.30 service aces per set. Sophomore libero Melissa Robinson is sixth in the MEAC in digs per set with 3.12, while Roberson is the team’s leading blocker with 0.94 rejections per set.
The pre-determined regional sites are Austin, Texas, University Park, Pa., Dayton, Ohio, and Seattle, Wash. The regional winners will advance to the semifinals and final hosted by the University of Missouri, Kansas City, and the Kansas City Sports Commission at the Sprint Center in Kansas City, Mo., on Dec. 16 and 18.
For all of the latest information on Florida volleyball, please log on to www.GatorZone.com/volleyball. Follow Florida Volleyball on Twitter at www.twitter.com/GatorZoneVB and Coach Mary Wise on Twitter at www.twitter.com/GatorMary.
FLORIDA’S NCAA TOURNAMENT NOTES
· Florida has earned the program’s first-ever No. 1 seed to the NCAA Tournament.
· The Gators are 51-20 (.718) all-time in the NCAA Championship, including a 50-19 (.725) mark under the direction of head coach Mary Wise.
· Including the 2010 season, UF has made 20 consecutive and 21 overall NCAA Championship appearances (1987, 1991-2010).
· The Gators have advanced to regional action in 18 of Wise’s previous 19 season and have reached the national semifinal seven times in the last 19 years, the last coming in the 2003 season when Florida finished as the NCAA runner-up.
· Florida players have earned 35 NCAA All-Region Team honors, including five MVP selections. Elyse Cusack was named All-Gainesville Region in 2009.
· The Gators will be hosting NCAA First and Second Round action for the 19th time in the last 20 years.
NCAA SELECTION SHOW QUOTES
FLORIDA HEAD COACH MARY WISE
“I don’t think the selection announcement could come soon enough for these players. They’ve been looking forward to it and talking about it since our Friday-night match. To be the No. 1 seed is a reflection of our early non-conference wins and the fact that we went through a complete double round-robin – 20 matches – really without stumbling along the way. The committee gave us that No. 1 seed as a reflection of that in a year where there is so much parity that you could make a great argument for any one of seven or eight teams to be the No. 1 seed.”
On the mood in the room when Florida’s draw was announced …
“There was an excitement to see that there are over 300 teams that play Division I women’s volleyball and, to be the No. 1 seed gave us the chance to look back on what we’ve earned through the course of those three months of the season.”
On Florida’s chances of winning an NCAA title in 2010 …
“You can make an argument that this is a year that the committee had to work so hard to seed the tournament because of the parity in women’s volleyball. I think Florida has a chance, but so too does a whole group of teams. The past few years we were all chasing Penn State and, last year, Penn State and Texas separated themselves from the rest of the field. I don’t think there is a clear-cut favorite as there has been in recent history, so I think there’s a really good time for a lot of teams.”
On the parity in NCAA Division I women’s volleyball …
“I think it’s great for our sport in that this is where men’s basketball is. The parity in women’s volleyball – you saw it from the first weekend of the season to the last weekend of the regular season. You’re going to see it reflected in the tournament and the results.”
On Florida’s NCAA draw …
“I think the team looks at the draw and thinks there’s some really, really tough first and second round matchups. We’ve been on the other end – there was one year , when we had to play Stanford, a team that went on and won it all, in the second round. You never know how it’s going to shake out for you. We’re fortunate there were enough teams in the tournament within driving distance or else we could have been playing on the road.”
On hosting NCAA First and Second Rounds for the 19th time in the last 20 years …
“I love the fact that our fans have a chance to see this special team one more time. If the reception they got at the basketball game the other night is any indication, I think there are a lot of Gator fans that would like to see them play.”
#12 Kelly Murphy, S/RS, Jr.
On the team’s reaction to the NCAA selection …
“It’s a really cool feeling to see that No. 1 next our name. I feel like we’ve been working for that really hard and we did everything in our power to earn that spot. We have a tough road, but I think as long as we keep working hard, we can keep reaching our goals.”
On whether she believes Florida is the best team in the country …
“According to the bracket, but we know that we have a lot to work on still and our goal was to be playing our best volleyball in December and that starts next week, so we hope it works out well for us.”
On going from not being picked to win the SEC to achieving the No. 1 national seed …
“I think it means our hard work has paid off. We know that everything we’ve been doing so far has been working towards something and we’ve achieved everything that we’ve set out to do so far this season. We know if we keep our focus and mindset that we’ve had from the beginning, we can achieve the goals that we set this season.”
On if she thinks Florida is capable of winning an NCAA Championship …
“That’s what we’re hoping for. We’re exactly where we want to be at this point in the season. We’ve worked really hard. We’ve already achieved one goal of winning the SEC and so now it’s a new season. We start practicing with a different mindset because you have to get refocused.”
#5 Callie Rivers, OH, Sr.
On Florida being seeded No. 1 in the NCAA Tournament …
“It’s great to know that the hard work we’ve put in all season, especially at the beginning of the year, when we played really tough opponents, has paid off. The SEC gets better every year and to go undefeated against those opponents and it’s nice to see that everything has paid off. Now it’s like the beginning. Everyone is 0-0 and it’s the first to win six games.”
On knowing that one loss can end the team’s season …
“It doesn’t feel great, especially being a senior, you don’t ever want it to ever end. But, hopefully, if we keep improving and peak starting with our first game this Friday and carry that all the way through, it won’t be over.”
On being the leader of Florida’s team …
“I think there are a bunch of leaders on our team. In fact, I think our team is filled with leaders and I think that’s what separates us from other teams is that we all trust each other, we all have input, we can call each other out on if someone isn’t doing what we think they’re supposed to be doing. Our chemistry is the best it’s ever been since I’ve been at Florida, so I think having that makes us better because everyone is going to get better, no matter what it takes.”
On the possibility of winning a national championship in her senior season …
“I could not think of a better situation. So far, it’s been ideal and I hope it continues to be that way.”