Photo by Brian Fox | ChompTalk

Expectations will be high once again for the Florida volleyball program. Head Coach, Mary Wise, has created a winning culture within the program. Entering her 33rd season at the helm, Wise will look to build on last year’s success by carrying it over to this season’s squad.

The Gators will open the season as the 11th ranked team in the nation. They will square off against tough competition as soon as the season begins. The team will travel to the Road 2 Tampa to play No. 8 ranked Penn State. The contest is scheduled for August 25th, at 8:00 p.m. from Amelie Arena in Tampa Bay, Florida.

The matchup will be an early test for the Gators, and the fanbase should have a good feel for how Coach Wise’s team will look against other elite competition. Although Florida had an impressive campaign in 2022, there will be new players in different roles this season. With a solid blend of veteran leadership and raw freshman talent, it will create a balanced look for this season’s roster.

The Gators schedule will be amongst one of the most difficult in all of college volleyball in 2023. Preseason nationally ranked opponents they will play besides Penn State include, No. 3 Stanford, No. 7 Minnesota, No. 2 Wisconsin, No. 25 Arkansas and No. 10 Kentucky.

Media availability was open for the team on Wednesday of this week before the team’s practice. Sophomore setter, Alexis Stucky, is the leading returner in assists for the Gators. She was selected as a the SEC Freshman of the Year in 2022.

I asked Stucky what it will take for the team to take the next step in the NCAA tournament this season in order to bring a national championship to Gainesville.

“Our coaches do an awesome job with the scout, so if we follow our game plan and win the serve and pass I think we have a chance to take it all home. We definitely have the talent.”

The next player available to the media was senior libero, Elli McKissock. McKissock is a returning starter who totaled 423 digs as a Junior. After starting all 31 matches for Florida in last year’s campaign, she will be looking to enter into a new leadership role for the Gators.

McKissock commented on the veteran presence that she will bring not only on the court, but off it as well.

“I’m excited to lead this team alongside Stucky and other players, other seniors. That’s a role that you get to have when you’re an upperclassmen, so being able to do that and lead them is going to be exciting.”

Although these two names will be very familiar amongst Gator fans, there are some new faces in the program that will need to step up. AC Fitzpatrick is a senior outside hitter who didn’t see much playing time in 2022’s campaign. However, in the team’s exhibition math Vs. Stetson, Fitzpatrick looked as though she could be the best player on the roster heading into 2023.

I asked Head Coach, Mary Wise, how big of a role Fitzpatrick will play this upcoming season.

“She’s in the best shape of her life, her strength, how much higher she’s jumping, so many good things. But long before we even play our first match, AC has had a direct impact on our program because of her leadership.”

All of the players mentioned above will be the main force behind the Gators winning culture in 2023. Other significant returning contributors on the roster include outside hitter, Victoria Sophia. Sophia is the leading returner in kills for Florida. A number of transfers to the program will see playing time early. Anna Dixon is a graduate transfer from Missouri who will most likely start at opposite side hitter. A freshman to keep an eye on is Kennedy Martin. Martin has impressive size at 6’6, which will allow her to tally blocks and kills all season long.

Expectations will always be high when you put on the Florida uniform. But it will be the performance on the court that will determine the Gators success in 2023. As Coach Wise and her team get ready for the long road ahead, their goals and aspirations have never been higher.

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