GatorZone.com Senior Writer
GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- The University of Florida volleyball team has been ranked No. 1 in the nation for a school-record eight consecutive weeks.
The Gators, a season after failing to win the SEC regular-season title for the first time under veteran coach Mary Wise, rebounded with a bang by becoming the first team in SEC history to go 20-0 in conference play.
To top off a 27-1 season – which includes a current 22-match win streak – Florida earned the No. 1 overall seed in the NCAA Tournament for the first time.
Add it all up, and you could say Wise and her team have had a very successful season in her 20th year leading the program.
But the Gators want more.
They open the postseason at home Friday night against South Carolina State. The winner advances to face the Florida State-Georgia Southern winner on Saturday for a berth in the Austin (Texas) Regional.
GatorZone.com caught up with Wise earlier this week; here is our Q&A with her:
Q: How is this year’s team different than any other one you have coached?
A: The difference would be that there were so many unknowns coming into the season. We weren’t favored from the very beginning. This team had to prove itself.
Q: What will it take for this team to become the first UF squad to win an NCAA volleyball national championship?
A: Any team has to be playing its best volleyball over the course of three weekends to win it, and stay healthy, and then just hope the matchups play out in your favor.
Q: What are your thoughts on the potential of facing a traditional rival like FSU so early in the tournament on Saturday?
A: History tells us that all second-round matches are great matches. You’ve got a team that is not only coming into the tournament having won, but they just won the night before. So the second-round matchups have been some of the best in the tournament in our history in terms of competitiveness. And should we advance to Saturday night, we expect nothing but that, no matter which team we are playing.
Q: What would be the perfect atmosphere at the O-Dome this weekend?
A: There have been some years where we’ve hosted the first and second rounds and regionals, and our first- and second-round attendance was off because I think people were waiting for regionals. I’m hoping that folks know this is it. This is the very last opportunity to see Florida play, this special team. We hope that people will come out, people who didn’t get a chance to see us prior, will use this opportunity to see us play.
Q: How are you different as a coach today than 20 years ago when you took over the program?
A: Besides just being older (laughter). I hope that with age comes wisdom and experience. To do this for this long – having the privilege of coaching so many different players, from different backgrounds, different personalities, different talents – I hope all that experience helps as we grow each team.
Q: What would it mean to you personally to win an NCAA championship?
A: In women’s volleyball, there really aren’t that many programs that have won it. There are some outstanding coaches who have been doing this a lot longer than me that haven’t won it. It’s very elusive. We’ve had a great run here, but obviously any coach aspires to end your season with a win. It would be pretty magical.