Tuesday November 22, 2011Gainesville Native Mann Has Provided Much-Needed Lift Down the Stretch
GAINESVILLE, Fla. – The match had been over less than an hour when Florida volleyball coach Mary Wise took to Twitter to cast her vote.
“Chloe Mann has GOT to be named National Player of the Week: 37 kills, .589, 10 blocks!” Wise posted shortly after Florida’s five-set victory at Arkansas on Nov. 13.
The award instead went to Rachel Davis of Purdue, but Wise’s public support for the Gators’ sophomore middle blocker wasn’t for naught.
A reserve for most of the season, Mann’s breakout performance in wins at LSU on Nov. 11 (18 kills, .900 hitting percentage) and at Arkansas two days later (19 kills, 24 points) earned her SEC Offensive Player of the Week honors.
Mann found out by a text from Wise.
“It’s really a big honor,’’ she said.
Mann’s 18 kills in 20 swings at LSU marked the second-highest hitting performance in a single game in NCAA history for a player with 20 or more attempts.
However, start asking Mann about how well she played to earn the award and the soft-spoken redshirt sophomore starts dishing out assists like Magic Johnson used to.
She credits her teammates’ serving, the digs behind her on defense and the assists from the setters, anything but the player in her No. 10 jersey.
That’s not her style. Instead, Mann quickly tries to turn the spotlight off her.
“Chloe is so humble,’’ teammate Tangerine Wiggs said. “She definitely has a fire [inside].’’
That fire was ignited for Mann at Eastside High in Gainesville, just a few miles from the O’Connell Center.
A tennis player growing up, Mann started playing volleyball as a freshman in high school.
“She wanted no part of it,’’ Wise said. “Her mother made her.’’
At a recent practice, Wise confirmed the story by yelling across the court and asking Mann, who acknowledged that she wasn’t crazy about the sport at first.
However, she liked it enough to make a trip to the O’Dome to watch the Gators play during her sophomore year at Eastside.
The action on the court and the atmosphere made a lasting impression.
“I fell in love immediately,’’ Mann said. “Once I did start learning the game and progressing, it was definitely a dream to come here. They just offered such a great balance of both strong academics as well as a very strong and highly competitive volleyball team.’’
Mann played sparingly as a redshirt freshman and was a role player this season until moving into the starting lineup last month. She has played as well as anyone on the team since, posting a hitting percentage of .566 and averaging 2.88 kills and 1.31 blocks per set over the last seven matches.
The Gators are 6-1 and Mann has a team-high 94.5 points over that span, providing the Gators a much-needed boost as they head into their regular-season finale on Wednesday night at home against South Carolina.
“Chloe has a sick jump. She touches higher than anyone else on our team,’’ Wiggs said. “We are so excited for her, but it’s something that she has taken with a grain of salt and she is happy to have contributed to the team. But she is starting to understand that this is just the beginning.’’
Once you learn more about Mann, it’s not surprising at how quickly she has moved into a prominent role for the Gators or the humbling manner in which she is handling the extra attention.
Mann arrived at UF as one of the most accomplished scholar-athletes in the volleyball program’s history. She carried a 4.8 GPA at Eastside as part of the school’s IB program and also served in the National Honor Society, French Honor Society, Student Government and Key Club.
The Gainesville native earned so many IB credits at Eastside that she entered the University of Florida as a second semester sophomore and will begin her master’s in information systems this spring after completing her business administration major and mass communications minor.
She spent a month in France last summer on a trip to meet her mother’s relatives for the first time. While there, she improved on her French enough to now speak it fluently.
“Chloe is a genius,’’ Wiggs said. “It’s so effortless for her when it comes to school. She is so smart but she is not one of those people that shows it.’’
Over the past month Mann has shown she can not only be an integral part of Wise’s program for the next two years after senior front-court players Kelly Murphy, Kristy Jaeckel, Cassandra Anderson and Stephanie Ferrell leave, but that she can help them while they are still here chasing the Gators’ first national title.
Mann is 6-foot-1 and has as good leaping ability as any player on the team.
“It gives us another dimension,’’ Wise said. “The biggest difference between her and anybody else we have is the height of where she is touching the ball above the net. You combine that and her foot speed, she is very difficulty to defense.’’
“She also plays next to Kelly Murphy for two rotations, so choose your poison.’’
Mann’s emergence didn’t happen by accident. As a former tennis player, she spent countless hours on her own and with Gators assistant coach Dave Boos working on her hitting technique.
A performance like the one Mann had at LSU seemed nearly impossible not so long ago.
“She came to us with an arm swing that looked for comfortable if you had put a tennis racket in it,’’ Wise said. “We knew that what she didn’t bring in experience was going to have to come in time will the training an all.’’
The next step for Mann, according to Wise, is performing at a high level consistently. Over the past seven matches that hasn’t been an issue, a trend Mann hopes to continue.
“I just wanted to go in there and try to find points whichever way I could, whether that be offensively with kills or blocking,’’ Mann said. “It’s been nice just being able to see hard work pay off, to see all the stuff that we work on in practice can be shown on the court.’’
If she keeps it up, a National Player of the Week honor might be in her future after all.