During a season in which the preseason polls had the Gators finishing fourth in the conference, Florida won the SEC championship, had the SEC Player of the Year (Chloe Mann), SEC Freshman of the Year (Ziva Recek), and SEC Coach of the Year (Mary Wise).
Florida began play in the NCAA Tournament Friday night as the 14th seed hosting sub-regional action. Florida’s first opponent of the tourney: the Tulsa Golden Hurricanes.
But before the Gators and Canes took the floor, the Cougars and a different set of Canes battled it out. Miami was up two sets to one, but the College of Charleston Cougars rallied back and took the 5th set 15-10 to advance.
After 30 minutes the Gators took the floor and came out firing. Florida scored six of the first seven points in the match, forcing a Tulsa timeout. Tulsa wouldn’t score a point again until 9-2. Florida’s Ziva Recek finished the first set with five kills.
Senior Sundai Weston also dropped two straight aces for points 15 and16, making an early impact in the first game of her last NCAA tourney. Chloe Mann also turned Gainesville into block city, getting in on five, one of which rejected NCAA kills leader Tyler Henderson. Gator head coach Mary Wise said earlier in the week “she’s gonna get her attempts, but we have adjust on the block.” They did.
Gators took the first set 25-9.
Coach Wise says that the first set wasn’t what they expected, but the rest of the game went the way they expected it to go.
As a result, the second set turned into a battle, with neither side getting up by more than two until Florida scratched out a 14-11 lead. Henderson flashed her stuff for the Golden Hurricanes, registering four kills and a block through the first 20 points. But Florida got hot on a back to back kill by senior Betsy Smith, and went into the locker room up 2-0, taking the second game 25-21.
The thhird set was a close one all the way, as the Gators called a timeout after having a lead narrowed to 19-17. But out of the timeout, Florida fired on all cylinders and took the set 25-21.
The story of the game for the Gators was the defense of sophomore defensive specialist Maddy Monserez, who came up with a team high 16 digs.
Coach Wise says that her play was key for the win.
Monserez says that the the ground game is something they’ve worked on in preparation for this game.
Offensively, the Gators were lead by senior outside hitter Tangerine Wiggs, who racked up eight kills on 12 total attempts (.667). Wiggs credits all the team’s offensive success to ball movement.
As for Tulsa’s side of the net, a teary eyed Tyler Henderson took the podium after the game, saying it was rough one to lose. She finished with 17 kills on the match, but that wasn’t enough to stop Florida. Golden Hurricanes head coach Steven McRoberts says that the Gators are one tough team to crack.
McRoberts goes on to say that it was completely different playing an SEC team.
As for tomorrow’s match up with College of Charleston, Wise says she’s glad they play tomorrow after Charleston went five games with Miami.
Florida and the College of Charleston go at it tomorrow night at 730 from the O’Dome. Winner goes on to the Austin Regional; you can hear the match live on ESPN Radio 850/900.