The Florida volleyball team is officially starting to prepare for the upcoming NCAA tournament. Last year, the Gators made it all the way to the National Championship game before falling to Nebraska in four sets.
This season was not quite as magical as the last one, with the squad finishing the regular season with an overall record of 24-6 (15-3 SEC), putting Florida third in conference standings. Now, the team is looking to zero in on making it out of the first two rounds.
This is the first part of the preview, as the Gators will compete on Thursday. If the team wins, another preview for the winner of UCF-FGCU will be posted. Stay tuned!
Florida failed to clinch home-court advantage for the first round of the tournament, but that is not necessarily a bad thing. The Gators will compete just two hours away in Orlando. (The location is based on UCF’s 11th overall seed). The team’s first test will be against the Florida State Seminoles… a team the Gators already topped once this season.
Scouting the Opponent
FSU finished the regular season 19-9. Some of the Noles’ quality losses include No. 2 Minnesota (0-3) and No. 8 Wisconsin (1-3). Bad losses include Colorado State (2-3), Miami (2-3), and Auburn (1-3).
Thursday’s match will not be the first time these in-state rivals are meeting this season. Head-to-head, Florida State lost to Florida in Tallahassee 3-1 on September 12th. Florida took the first two sets, 22-25, FSU took the third 25-16, and Florida nabbed the fourth frame 25-19.
Both teams made 47 kills in the match, but the Gators were much cleaner. They committed 17 errors compared to the Seminoles’ 28. Florida hit stronger, with an overall clip of .242, while holding FSU to .148. The Gators also won the blocking battle (14) compared to 8 FSU blocks. The Seminoles only had more aces (4) than Florida (2). Assists were pretty comparable with the Gators posting 40 and Florida State tallying 39.
Both Florida and Florida State boast elite rosters with players that will come out in full force to a) beat a bitter rival and b) move on in the tournament.
Florida has three All-SEC players in Rachael Kramer, Taelor Kellum, and Paige Hammons. Thayer Hall made the SEC All-Freshman team.
FSU will roll out the ACC Player of the Year in Payton Caffrey. Taryn Knuth is another All-ACC first-team selection and Kelsey Wicinski made the second team.
Yes, the Gators topped the Noles once this year in four sets. But, in a tournament game highlighted by an in-state rivalry, I’m predicting that this game goes to five sets. I’m sticking with Florida, but Caffrey should make serious moves for the other team.
The match will be played on Thursday at 4:30 PM. For those who want to watch, it will be broadcasted on WatchESPN. For those who want to listen, tune into ESPN 98.1 FM/850 AM. For general updates, @GatorsVB (Twitter) will be live-streaming play-by-play updates.