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|2004 Gator Volleyball
Year In Review
What happens when a team loses its all-time leader in kills, its all-time leader in blocks and its only libero ever in a single season?
If you're the University of Florida volleyball program, the answer is this: You keep chugging right along. The Gators did, in fact, lose all of the aforementioned players from their 2003 national runner-up team. But that didn't stop UF from making its 14th straight NCAA Championship appearance in 2004, claiming its 14th straight Southeastern Conference regular season title, finishing in the top 15 of the AVCA Coaches Poll for the 14th straight year and boasting multiple All-Americans for the eighth time in head coach Mary Wise's tenure at Florida.
All that from a team comprised of a majority of underclassmen. Florida entered the 2004 season having lost a higher percentage of points, kills and blocks than nearly every other preseason top 10 team. But the Gators still managed to break the NCAA records for consecutive regular season conference matches won (121) and consecutive overall conference matches won (145). The Gators also claimed the program's 600th win in 2004, while Wise earned her 450th victory as a Gator. Florida also finished in the top 10 in attendance in the nation for the 14th straight year.
In typical fashion, the season started off with a win as the Gators made short work of South Florida in a 3-0 win at home on Sept. 1. The Gators improved their record to 62-2 against teams from Florida under Wise with the Gators sporting an unusual look as each of Florida's four freshmen saw playing time in the match.
The Gators' season took another unusual turn when hurricanes began disrupting Florida's schedule. Moments after Florida's Wednesday night contest with South Florida, it was determined that the Gator Invitational, scheduled for the following Friday and Saturday, was canceled due to an impending hurricane. In a span of less than 24 hours, the Gator team hopped on a bus to Atlanta, then flew to Chicago for the NU Labor Day Invite at Northwestern - just the beginning of what would turn out to be an 11-day road trek through the Midwest.
At Northwestern's tournament, the Gators had little trouble in disposing of Bowling Green, Indiana-Purdue Fort Wayne and Northwestern - all by 3-0 scores. With the weather situation not improving in Florida, the Gators were forced to remain in the region before bussing up to Minneapolis to play in the Diet Coke Classic Sept. 9-11 where Florida encountered three preseason top 25 teams.
The Gators disposed of No. 15 Kansas State in the opening match 3-2 - Florida's first five-game match since 2002. In the second match of the event, the Gators took down Northern Iowa 3-1 as junior Rachel Engel finished one dig shy of the school record with 33.
Florida then battled eventual national runner-up and fifth-ranked Minnesota in the last match with the Gophers sneaking away with a 3-2 win to snap the Gators' 34-match regular season winning streak. The contest marked the first of Florida's nine television appearances on the season and junior Jane Collymore came to play as she finished with a career-high 28 kills.
The Gators rebounded with a 3-1 win at Florida State in handing the Seminoles their 13th straight loss at the hands of Florida. Florida improved its record to 7-1 on the year in its second television appearance.
Mother nature again struck the Gators as the Hilton Volleyball Classic was shorted to just one match between Florida and Clemson. The Gators encountered a bit of trouble, but put the Tigers away 3-0 in winning their 46th straight match at home.
Florida opened up SEC play by knocking off Arkansas in Fayetteville to set the NCAA record in winning the Gators' 107th straight conference contest. Collymore led the way with 22 kills, while Engel added 24 digs in a 3-1 victory.
The road swing was capped with the Gators' third televised match of the season in Baton Rouge, La., against LSU - a 3-0 Florida win that improved the Gators' record to 10-1.
No. 18 Texas came into the O'Connell Center to re-ignite a storied rivalry and the eventual Elite Eight team came away with a 3-1 win on the Gators' home court. The Wednesday evening match marked the first day that Sunshine Network's Under the Lights camera crew began documenting Florida with the goal of finding out what life as a member of the Gator volleyball team was like. The crew remained in a behind-the-scenes capacity for the next six days - capturing the essence of being a member of one of the top programs in the country before compiling everything into a one-hour show that aired a few weeks later.
Florida rebounded with a solid 3-0 thumping of Auburn in which freshman Marcie Hampton finished with just one attack error in 26 swings with 14 kills. Florida closed out the homestand with a 3-0 win against Alabama as Gator fans again packed the O'Connell center with more than 2,000 on hand to watch.
The Sunshine crew's final evening with the Gators was a dandy as Florida traveled to Georgia and faced a scrappy Bulldog squad. The Gators eventually duked out a 3-1 win in defeating Georgia for the 35th straight time as Hampton set a career high with 20 kills with Engel adding 30 digs and freshman Angie McGinnis chipping in with 56 assists and 13 digs. Florida returned home and then traveled to Lexington, Ky., and knocked off the Wildcats for the 30th consecutive time to improve to 14-2 and 6-0 in the SEC.
Gator fans stormed the O'Connell Center in Florida's next match as the second-best crowd in school history (6,311) witnessed a 3-0 demolishing of LSU. The Gators then defeated Arkansas 3-1 in their sixth televised match of the season as senior Sherri Williams finished with 13 kills and nine total blocks.
Florida faced its toughest SEC matchup in several years when the Gators made their way to Knoxville to battle No. 17 Tennessee. Florida fought off a pair of game points in the second game after dropping the first and came up with a 34-32 win in game two before claiming the final two for a 3-1 win. The Gators finished with 21 total blocks with Williams picking up 10 on her own and senior Michelle Chatman chiming in with nine.
Three more wins on the road followed as Florida defeated South Carolina, Ole Miss and Mississippi State by scores of 3-0 in improving to 20-2 overall and 12-0 in the SEC. The Gators returned home where they played their next seven matches with the first a 3-0 win against Kentucky on Nov. 5 in front of a boisterous Gator crowd.
Florida then defeated Georgia for the 36th straight time as Hampton finished with 16 kills and provided several critical serves down the stretch in a tight 3-0 victory. The Gators then beat South Carolina 3-0 to claim a share of their 14th consecutive SEC regular season title and extend their NCAA records to 145 straight regular season conference wins and 121 consecutive conference wins overall.
In the final regular season match, No. 15 Tennessee came to Gainesville and escaped with a 3-2 win, but the Gators still earned the No. 1 seed in the SEC Tournament, which was played the following weekend in Gainesville.
Florida opened the tournament with a 3-0 stomping of South Carolina before facing No. 5 seed Georgia in a hard-fought semifinal match. The Bulldogs came out aggressive and took the first two games. Florida fought off three match points in the third game and was down 10-4 in the decisive fifth game, but pulled out a thrilling victory. Williams notched a career-high 22 kills with Collymore adding 28. McGinnis ended with a career-high 61 assists and 22 digs.
The win set up a rematch from the previous week as the Gators took on No. 12 Tennessee in the title match in Florida's eighth television appearance of the season. The Lady Vols were up to the task and knocked off the Gators in another epic five-game match.
As usual, the Gators left Gainesville during the Thanksgiving holiday and became aquatinted with New York City as Florida played in the St. John's Classic. The Gators had little trouble in a 3-0 win against St. John's in the opening match as Florida hit a season-best .458 during the contest. The Gators had trouble with NCAA Championship participant Towson in the tournament title match, but Florida won 3-2 as Williams was named the tournament MVP with Collymore also being selected to the all-tournament squad.
For the first time in 14 seasons, Florida failed to host an NCAA Championship match as the Gators were sent packing to Tallahassee to face No. 22 Florida A&M in the first round. Florida proved up to the challenge as the easily took care of the Rattlers - who had defeated Nebraska in Lincoln earlier in the season - by a 3-0 score. The win improved Wise to 39-13 all-time in NCAA play as Collymore posted 23 kills with McGinnis adding 41 assists, six kills and six digs in front of a rowdy Rattlers crowd.
Two days later, Florida faced No. 6 Stanford in the second round. It marked just the second time in school history that the Gators battled a ranked opponent in the second round and Florida came up just shy as the Cardinal eked out a 3-2 win before going on to win the national championship.
It was a difficult ending to an improbable and crazy season, but the Gators gave Stanford its toughest challenge in the NCAA Championship - a sure sign that Florida's relatively inexperienced squad was ready for bigger and better things in 2005.
2004 Team Achievements
2004 Individual Honors
2004 Records Broken (School records unless noted)
In the Top 10 in 2004