Thursday August 14, 2014Gator Volleyball Previews 2014 Season at Media Day Wednesday
The Gators met with the media Wednesday to preview the 2014 campaign.
The Gators met with the media Wednesday to preview the 2014 campaign.
GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- The No. 10 Florida volleyball program, five days into two-a-day preseason camp, took an hour out of Wednesday’s schedule to meet with the media and preview the 2014 campaign.
Just Tuesday, the Orange and Blue were predicted to finish first in the SEC in the annual preseason coaches’ poll, while three AVCA All-American Gator returners in senior Taylor Unroe, junior Živa Recek and sophomore Alex Holston, were named to the 2014 Preseason All-SEC team.
The 2014 volleyball season kicks off Friday, Aug. 29, as the Gators welcome Georgia Southern, Idaho and Oklahoma to town for the Active Ankle Challenge, but first Florida will hit the O’Dome Saturday, August 16 for UF Football and Volleyball Fan Day, beginning at 3 p.m. The volleyball Orange and Blue intrasquad scrimmage will kick off at 3:30 p.m. and the Gators will sign autographs immediately following from 5-6 p.m.
HEAD COACH MARY WISE
On the depth and talent of the 2014 Florida team:
The depth is what has separated this group from the very beginning from teams in the past. Through the first few days of training camp, any combination of players that we put on the floor on one side, the other side is equally as talented. There have been years where our roster was smaller, and from one side to the other, there was a huge gap. When you do that, you still create opportunities to make your experienced players better, while you’re bringing along your younger players. Our younger players happen to be very talented, as too are our experienced players. The depth is what’s really going to be a huge asset for us.
On the 2014 senior class:
All back row players. I think if you were to describe this senior class of Maddy (Monserez), Holly (Pole) and Taylor (Unroe), it would be: they are the worker bees. The amount of work they have put in over the past four years to improve their game and to make each other better, what has been so special is watching how invested they are in each other’s improvements. They all play the same position. It’s very unique, they are looking at competition as bringing their best to make the other person better as well.
On what five freshmen bring to the team:
Freshmen tend to come in a little reserved as they are just trying to figure things out -- they are hoping they wore the right color jersey and found their way to training table; it’s not so much energy, but what we’re seeing early on with these freshmen is they are very good learners. The learning curve has been fast forwarded a bit because of how quickly they are absorbing techniques and systems and terminology that is all brand new to them.”
On being picked to win the SEC in the preseason coaches’ poll and No. 10 in the AVCA Preseason Top-25 Poll:
We understand that preseason polls are a reflection of past history. You look at rosters of who you’ve lost and who is returning. Not too many days go by that, as coaches, we think about who won’t be on the court. That (preseason) poll has a whole lot to do with the reflection of two incredibly valuable seniors (Taylor Brauneis & Chloe Mann) who graduated.
On 6-4 freshman middle blocker Rhamat Alhassan:
The story of Rhamat is that she came to volleyball relatively late and in the world today, very late. She was a sophomore in high school. The fortunate thing is she’s a great athlete, she grew up playing basketball. Her volleyball coach out of the DC area -- the same coach Alex Holston had -- identified her athleticism and did everything she could to talk her in to coming to a practice. A lot of credit goes to this coach, who really took Rhamat under her wing and introduced her to the sport. I don’t think she ever thought, that early, that she (Rhamat) would choose volleyball over basketball. Rhamat could be playing basketball at a lot of places right now, but we’re very fortunate she’s playing volleyball. Fast forward her progress -- it would have been the summer after her junior year that she tried out for the youth national team and the fact that she even made one of the last cuts is incredible. A year later, she’s the MVP on the junior national team at the NORCECA qualifier tournament. When we talk about a learning curve, hers has been a straight line.”
On if she had any skepticism the first time she recruited Rhamat Alhassan:
As a senior, we went to multiple tournaments where we thought she was going to be there, everyone hoped she was going to be there, but basketball got in the way. It was multiple trips to various tournaments around the country before Dave Boos -- our associate head coach -- was the first one who saw her and text us, ‘you won’t believe who’s in the gym.’ It was a phone call that night, he said, ‘Rhamat is here and she’s definitely going to be number one on our list.’ I said, ‘she’s that good?’ Dave said, ‘oh no, she doesn’t know anything about the game yet.’ But he saw in her athletic skills, how hard she played, that she could get there. What’s been so impressive these first few days is what a great learner she is. Sometimes for players it takes them a while before that light comes on for them to learn and change skills and take it all in; there are so many changes in their lives. You may see a player where it’s not until her sophomore or junior year -- sometimes later. Every indication is she (Rhamat) has great ability to learn.
On senior defensive specialist and local player Holly Pole:
Holly arguably has the highest volleyball IQ on our team -- that’s from a walk-on who was a multi-sport athlete who did not have the opportunity to play in international competition. Just as she’s an excellent student -- she’s our accounting major -- she’s also an excellent student of the game. She really is, in our defensive system and as a defensive player, an extension of (associate head coach) Dave (Boos), our defensive coordinator, on the court. Holly is constantly coaching up her teammates and I think when it’s all said and done, some may say Holly may be one of the best walk-on players we’ve ever had -- it would be fair, but I think at the end of the day we can say Holly is one of the best defensive players we’ve ever had.
On the number of players with international experience this summer:
There is no substitute for those opportunities. The three that went to Europe (Simone Antwi, Alex Holston & Gabby Mallette), Ziva (Recek) playing with her national team, Noami (Santos-Lamb) with hers and Rhamat (Alhassan) with the junior national team. International volleyball is a different game. For them to get out of their comfort zones and make the adaptions, it is great for them individually, and for us as a team.
On going into camp with a lot of competition for playing time and tons of depth -- is it fun or scary, or both:
It’s both fun and scary. We haven’t been in this position very often, if ever, in every position of the depth chart. It sure makes for some fun drills and the scrimmages have been at such a high level, even early on in training camp. What we’re embracing is that competition is striving to bring out the best in ourselves and others. The players have really bought into that.
On the team chemistry and how close the players are:
That is the beauty of having all 17 of them here in July, after international competitions, they were all here working camp, going to school, working out with our strength coach (Matt DeLancey), playing pick-up volleyball. There was a day and age when that just wasn’t possible and they weren’t here -- they were meeting each other for the very first time the very first day of training camp. That’s really one of the big differences in the world of volleyball here at Florida than in the past.
FLORIDA PLAYER QUOTES
#11 Maddy Monserez, DS
On being a senior and what she’s most looking forward to this season:
We’re really excited to all have grown together, Holly, Taylor and I. We are going to try and work together as best we can to motivate the team. When you become a senior, it’s a whirlwind. It’s your last time for everything. We’ve been really channeling that and trying to use the expertise we have to help people through situations that we’ve been through.
As a team we always want to represent the name on our chest. We love playing for the Gator Nation. It’s one of the best feelings in the world, so we want to go out every game and make our community and program proud and play as hard as we can every chance we get.
#30 Holly Pole, DS
On being a senior:
I’m excited, I am so blessed to have had this opportunity three years ago to come here and play volleyball and now going into my senior season, I’m just trying to make it last as long as possible and make every minute of it count.
On what she’s most looking forward to this season:
Definitely Senior Night. Seeing all my family at the game is always important to me, seeing them support me, also getting a chance to visit all the SEC schools one last time.
On any personal goals she has this year:
Placing much more focus on the team trying win that national championship; it’s my last year here and I’m trying to make the most of it.
#5 Taylor Unroe, L
On the team’s expectations after being picked to win the SEC:
We always want to have the best season possible, do our part in the gym, focus on our side of the net and just do the things we can control to get the farthest in the SEC and the [NCAA] Tournament. We just want to focus on ourselves.
On expectations following last season’s individual awards:
Individual awards are pretty cool, but nothing I do is better than what we can do as a group. My expectations for myself are to just perform at my best and compete every day.
On a talented freshman class:
They look awesome. They are still newbies, so they are still learning our system and the speed, and physical talents of people that are a lot bigger and older than them. They are top recruits in the country and they are definitely playing like top players.
#16 Simone Antwi, MB
On the freshman class:
The freshmen this year are really special. There are five of them and that’s a lot, but they all come in the gym, make us better and they’re all getting better every day, so we’re getting better as a team every day. It’s really exciting. They can make an impact.
On her major and academic track:
I’m doing a graduate program in international business, so one of my goals is to start a non-profit organization overseas. My family is from Ghana, so I want to do something there. I’m not sure in which field I want to do it, but I want to go back there and help people out.
#6 Mackenzie Dagostino, S
On playing with the USA Collegiate National Team:
It was great and definitely a good experience taking the best players and putting us all together. What’s fun is that you learn something different from each college. All these girls bring in different experiences and techniques which we compile together into one system and it gives us something to bring back and implement to our own system, which is something I never experienced before and thought was really cool.
On what she’ll bring back from playing on the USA Collegiate National Team:
Definitely faster tempo, we have been working on that as is with the team, but being a part of the USA program, it was definitely quick. It was quick ball, it was fun ball. It makes it more like a guy’s game. When you think about it, women’s sports are sometimes a little slower, but in volleyball if you can speed up that tempo, it’s so much more fun to watch. I love watching fast volleyball and bringing that into our gym, it’s just crazy. We are so good at hitting that ball, it’s a lot of fun to watch and we are excited to bring it out for the fans this year.
Difference between this year and last year:
Our work ethic -- last year we had a great work ethic, but this year we are focused a lot more on our culture. What kind of volleyball program do we want to be? What kind of players do we want to be? We’ve promised each other and our coaches every day we come into the gym we are going to give it our all. We are playing for a national championship every single day in our gym and that’s what we decided for our culture to be. We don’t back down, we don’t give up any ball -- it could be an easy ball that’s one step from you, and you sprint to it, or it could be a ball that is 20 feet away from the court and you still give everything you can knowing that you may not be able get to it. Making sure we have that culture every single day is what’s going to be different.
#7 Gabby Mallette, OH
On what she learned by playing on the U.S. National team this past summer:
In college, you see people who are big, tall and strong with a fast offense. But overseas, there are a lot of high balls to the outside. Players are not overly physical, but they were all very smart.
On the 2014 freshman class:
Our freshmen work hard and they are smart. They are answering questions that I would’ve gotten wrong my freshman year. They are also really engaged and have bought into the program, which usually takes until next spring once we have played a full season. These girls are awesome.
#20 Nikki O’Rourke, DS
On her feeling on training camp after the first five days:
I think everything is going really awesome. We have a big team this year with 17, so there is definitely a lot of competition in the gym at every position and in every aspect. It’s going to be a really fun season and I am looking forward to it.
#9 Ziva Recek, OH
On individual and team goals:
Here at Florida we never talk about individual goals, really. We are all about the team and team work and team goals. The goals are the same every season. Finishing at the top of the SEC and staying in the NCAA tournament as long as we can. We don’t use them as a pressure, but we focus on each game at a time and play hard every time.
On her experience playing with the Slovenian National Team this summer:
Every time you travel with an international team, you play against older players and that’s how you get experience. I think it’s really fun to play against good teams like Spain, Czech Republic, Slovakia and Turkey. They are top 10 teams in Europe I would say. It’s very fun to play against teams like that and gain experience.
#17 Noami Santos-Lamb, OH
On two years removed from ACL injury:
I feel 100 percent physically and mentally now after my ACL tear, and seeing all the hard work pay off feels great. Having the support of my team and coaching staff to push me to be my best has been a great experience.
On playing with former Gator All-American and fellow Puerto Rican Aury Cruz this summer:
It was an awesome experience to not only play with her, but room with her. I roomed with her my entire trip and it was great to see how somebody who came from basically the same place as me has made this sport her career, and basically made [volleyball] her job. It was great to learn from her and see how to use all of your skills to your advantage. To have her as a mentor and mirror what she has done into my game was great.
#12 Denise Belcher, OH
On finishing her freshman season and now being a sophomore:
It was definitely an eye opener, dealing with the transition from high school to college, just getting used to dealing with the flow of school and sports, but overall a good learning experience. I definitely feel more prepared and definitely feel more focused.
Key matchups you are looking forward to this season:
I think we are all looking forward to a rematch with FSU, that’s going to be fun, and getting to play Texas twice this year.
#3 Alex Holston, RS
On personal expectations following an All-American freshman year:
I am not setting any expectations for myself. Right now, I am just worried about each game, what I can do for the team and the outcome of the first game. I am not worried about any accolades at the end of the season.
On taking on a leadership role:
I think my confidence has gotten higher this year and I feel more confident as a player and a teammate. I have never really been a natural leader; I am more of a monkey-see-monkey-do leader. The coaches have talked to me about how they want me to step into a leadership role this season.
#15 Shaïnah Joseph, MB/OH
Recapping her freshman season and what she took away from her first year as a Gator:
My experience last year was a really good experience. I got to come in and learn a lot last year. I was with Chloe Mann and Simone (Antwi) and Chloe Mann is obviously a very great player so I was very fortunate to learn from her. She taught me so many things.
On the difference between last year and this year:
This year it’s a very big difference. We’re a bigger team obviously with a lot of younger players. I think we’re very close. We have little dates so we can hang out, which are really nice. It gives us time for the upper classmen and lower classmen to hang out and really get to know each other. Now that we have a really big freshman class, we do a lot of learning. I would teach a lot to Rhamat since she’s in my same position. I think it’s a really good dynamic. We learn from each other and we teach each other and we have to be very supportive of each other.
#1 Rhamat Alhassan, MB
On challenges she thinks she may face her freshman year:
The speed of the game will definitely be one of the biggest challenges for me. Being able to move at that speed and getting used to it.
On playing with the USA Junior National team this summer:
It was great (playing for the USA Volleyball Junior National Team). I really enjoyed playing with the girls that we played with. It was a great experience getting to meet all of them. They’re all going to different schools and they’re from different backgrounds so it was fun playing with all of them.
On choosing to be a Gator:
I love the program and I really like the coaches and the facilities. They have a great computer science program, which is what I want to major in.
#14 Abby Detering, S
On transitioning from high school to college:
It’s way different than high school, but the team really helps you out a lot, getting you ready for situations, helping you with school and practice and where to be at what time. The older girls have been really helpful.
On adapting to the new level of competition that you see at the college level:
It’s a higher notch, but when you are surrounded girls who play at that higher level, you want to play at that higher level and it helps makes each one of us better.
On adjustments she’s made as she prepares for her first season:
I had to make more difficult goals for myself and try to do what I can to be best for the team and help in whatever way I can.
#8 Sam Dubiel, DS
On transition from high school to collegiate athletics:
It’s been great and definitely a different experience. With the seniors’ help, we have been getting acclimated and they have helped teach us how things are done at Florida. They have been really helpful, especially on the court and off the court, too. In practice they help teach us the system because learning a new system can be hard, but with their help it’s been great.
On moving to Florida from Illinois:
The first two weeks I went walking everywhere. Being from Chicago, the weather was completely different and it was nice to walk around in the sun. Obviously I got rained on a little bit. After two weeks of walking, I decided to get a scooter, which was very helpful.
#25 Lindsey Rogers, DS
On the friction within her household (a UF/FSU house divided) upon her choice to go to UF:
I grew up in a house divided, (mother played softball at Florida State and her father played football at Florida), but when I got the call from Coach Wise that they were interested in me, it was such a great honor as Florida is a great program. Automatically I knew I wanted to come on a visit here and see the campus. My mom was totally supportive of it despite the fact that it has been hard to get her to wear the Orange and Blue. On my visit, we all saw how amazing the facilities are and how awesome the coaching staff is and she was OK with it. Of course, my dad was always fine with me coming here.
On her favorite memory growing up when she visited Gainesville:
I remember coming to a volleyball match a little while ago, which was Maddy’s (Monserez) freshman year. I remember seeing her run onto the court and thinking: that’s amazing that a freshman is going in; just to see her excel and do really well was great.
#4 Carli Snyder, OH
On the transition from Michigan to Gainesville and high school to college volleyball:
Everything has gone really well thus far. The seniors have made a really good effort to get to know us and help us with all the team’s systems. It’s really hard to learn, as this is a lot different from high school and club ball. All of us freshmen have just been really grateful that all the upper classmen have been so helpful. It’s been nice to leave one family and come to another.