2013. 2014. 2017. These years all have something in common when talking about the University of Florida’s athletic programs. In each of those years, a Florida athletic program earned their first national title. 2013: Gymnastics. 2014: Softball. 2017: Baseball.
On December 16, the Florida volleyball team hopes to be the fourth program in the last four years to earn their first national championship.
And of all the past years and all the success the program has endured, this team may have the best chance entering the NCAA Tournament.
Florida finished the regular season 25-1 and ranked third in the AVCA Coaches Poll. Florida owns the #2 RPI in Division I volleyball, and was named the #2 overall seed in the NCAA Tournament. For the Gators, this is the first time since 2010 and seventh time overall that they have been a top four seed.
WHY THIS YEAR?
What’s different about the 2017 team?
Florida has an 8-1 record against teams in the NCAA Tournament. Florida has defeated the #5 seed (Nebraska) and the #6 seed (Texas) in Gainesville already this year. The Gators also split two matches against #4 overall seed Kentucky.
The Gators are led by an extremely talented senior class. SEC Player of the Year MB Rhamat Alhassan set program records for career blocks and block assists. Alhassan ranks number one in the country in blocks per set and 26th in overall hitting percentage.
Seniors: OH Carli Snyder, L Caroline Knop, and (redshirt) OH Shainah Joseph each were named to the All-SEC team in addition to sophomore Rachael Kramer. Head coach Mary Wise was named the SEC co-coach of the year.
Wise has coached Florida since 1991 and earned her 900th career victory in the regular season finale against Missouri.
Florida’s team defense is among the best in the country. Florida ranks second in the nation allowing opponents to hit at a .126 clip. The Gators are third in the country in blocks per set (led by Alhassan), with 3.12 per set.
Florida also controls matches offensively. Florida is the fourth ranked team in assists per set at 13.27. The Gators average 14.12 kills per set, and hit at a .280 efficiency. Each of those stats rank in the top 30 nationally.
Florida’s path to the Final Four:
Florida has a relatively easy path to the Final Four. Not only will the Gators have the opportunity to play at home through to the Final weekend, but they won’t face a team ranked higher than seventh seeded Minnesota. The Gophers also rank seventh in RPI.
Florida faces Alabama State in the opening round of play on Thursday at 7:00 PM. The winner will meet the winner of the Miami-College of Charleston matchup on Friday.
Florida has as good a chance as ever to win the national title this year. The seniors have laid the groundwork for success by example. That doesn’t mean it’s going to be easy. Upsets happen in sports all the time. But, don’t be surprised if we are celebrating a first for the program come December 16.