GatorZone.com Senior Writer
GAINESVILLE, Fla. – If newcomer Taylor Brauneis passes the first-impression test with fans the way she has her new teammates and coaches, No. 8 on Florida’s volleyball team should run for mayor or UF President someday.
A transfer from Louisville, Brauneis clearly knows how to win over a team.
“When she came on her visit, we all immediately fell in love with Taylor,’’ junior middle blocker Chloe Mann said.
What makes this former All-Big East selection such a popular figure? Mann, also Brauneis’ roommate, was won over by her sense of humor. Brauneis likes to laugh. She likes to make people laugh and laugh at herself.
“She is definitely quirky,’’ Mann said. “I love that because we can both goof off together in the dorms. I definitely think she helps lighten the mood around practices just because she’ll just say random stuff sometimes. Practices can get really intense. When you have that comic relief, it kind of helps alleviate the pressure.”
Sophomore Madison Monserez is another big fan of Brauneis. The two were roommates for part of the summer and no matter where they were or what they were doing, they had a good time.
Much of the time they were on the Lemerand Center’s volleyball court or in the weight room training for the season. They had serious work to do but Brauneis usually found a way to make it more fun for everyone. When Brauneis left to go home to Prairie Ridge, Ill., for a vacation, Monserez noticed a difference.
“The whole atmosphere changed,’’ Monserez said. “We had no one to laugh at or goof around with. She definitely brings a lighter atmosphere but at the same time she knows when to get down to business.”
Brauneis might have a lighter side to her, but based on what she has done on the court during her career, she has game.
In two seasons as Louisville’s starting setter, Brauneis compiled 2,332 assists, good for seventh-best in school history. After her freshman season Brauneis played for the USA National A2 team that won a gold medal in Dallas at the USA Volleyball Open National Championships. As part of the USA National A2 program, Brauneis once worked with Gators coach Mary Wise at a camp. That was the extent of their connection until last winter when Brauneis began looking for a new school.
Longtime Louisville coach Leonid Yelin retired and his replacement, former Cardinals standout Ann Kordes, arrived from St. Louis to take over at her alma mater. Ready for a fresh start of her own, Brauneis visited Florida, which made the Elite 8 a year ago but was in need of a talented setter with the departure of senior All-American Kelly Murphy and sophomore Chanel Brown (transferred to Arizona).
“I’m not going to get too into it, but the biggest thing for me is that I needed more of a college town, a college experience,’’ Brauneis said about her decision to transfer. “And here I’ve gotten that. The transition has been really easy.
“This team is so close and I feel like I’ve been here a lot longer than I have.”
Brauneis was also intrigued by the challenge of trying to help replace Murphy, one of the best players in school history. Murphy and fellow senior Kristy Jaeckel were the heart and soul of last year’s Gators team that finished 27-6 and made it to the Elite Eight.
Brauneis was very familiar with Murphy’s reputation in the game. She grew up about an hour from where Murphy did near Chicago. They played with, and against, many of the same players growing up and both finished high school as highly sought recruits.
Murphy shares the same respect for her replacement as Brauneis does the big void Murphy left behind.
“I think she is a very crafty setter,’’ said Murphy, who played professionally last spring in Puerto Rico and is now back at UF to finish her degree. “She likes to create things. She is pretty offensive, too. She is very experienced. Any time I’ve played against her, she’s run a 5-1, which means she is setting all the time.”
With Wise going to a 5-1 offense this fall – one setter is used instead of two regardless of rotations -- from the Gators’ familiar 6-2 scheme, a versatile setter like Brauneis is imperative to set the tone.
Brauneis must set up her teammates, be a leader and chip in with her own points. She has a knack for dump shots and other “crafty” ways to make the offense hum.
“I think she has hit her stride. There is a confidence level and she plays with so much game,’’ Wise said. “We talk about the greatest players and so many of them have a high IQ of the game and that’s what Taylor has. As you watch her play, there are going to be taller setters and there will be setters with other physical attributes that she doesn’t have, but as far as having game, she has that and a lot of it.”
Brauneis’ impact on the court has been as great as the one she made off it since arriving at UF in January according to her teammates.
“She is an elite-level setter,’’ Mann said. “When we play in a 5-1, you can see the offensiveness of Taylor.”
“Having Taylor is huge,’’ senior Tangerine Wiggs said. “It is something that puts us a step ahead.”
Whatever concerns the Gators had about Brauneis fitting in have been set out to pasture.
For a team with seven newcomers and Murphy and Jaeckel no longer around to lead the way, the situation Brauneis stepped into might make some turn the other way. Not the quirky transfer from Louisville.
She can laugh about it.
“She already knows how college volleyball is supposed to go,’’ Monserez said. “It’s a different vibe than when a freshman comes in. With Taylor, she knows how the game is, how she needs to perform and what everybody is expecting of her. She is having fun.”