Florida volleyball lost key players to graduation in outside hitters Thayer Hall and T’ara Ceasar, along with setter Marlie Monserez following a Third Round NCAA Tournament exit last season. Now, No. 15 Gator volleyball reloads with eight new players including five freshmen and three transfers.
Additionally, they’ve got two preseason All-Southeastern Conference players who 32nd-year head coach Mary Wise hopes can lead the way. Sophomores Merritt Beason and Bre Kelley both received SEC All-Freshman Team honors, last season.
Beason averaged 2.24 kills a set and Kelley hit .349 in 2021. Over the summer, the duo competed at the U21 Pan America Games with Team USA alongside incoming freshman setter Alexis Stucky. Beason won tournament MVP honors.
Florida also returns its defensive anchor, junior libero Elli McKissock, who ranks third all-time for career digs per set at UF.
While the Gators finished third in the SEC last year, the coaches poll predicts they will finish second in 2022. As Wise looks to win her first SEC title since 2019, the Gators begin their season with three teams coming to town for three matches over two days. Florida will play the University of North Florida Friday and East Tennessee State and the University of Virginia Saturday.
Gator Volleyball Adds Eight New Players
Stucky, a 2021 Under Armour All-American MVP, headlines the rookie class with a solid chance to be the starter despite sitting out the preseason scrimmage with an injury. Carly Hendrickson, a 2021 MaxPreps All-American, could also earn a role in the lineup at the outside position.
“Stating that Carly has a passion for the game of volleyball would be an understatement,” Elevation Volleyball Head Coach Chris Lovett said. “It would be more accurate to describe volleyball as her life’s work, but with the benefit of that it never feels like work Carly as it is truly her passion in life.”
Wise selected three players from the transfer portal over the offseason.
Junior outside AC Fitzpatrick comes from Penn State, but hails from not too far away playing high school volleyball at Trinity Catholic in Ocala. She started every match for the Nittany Lions during her freshman year but spent considerable time on the bench last season. Meanwhile, fellow outside 6-foot-5 senior Marina Markova grew up in St. Petersburg, Russia, before playing three years at Syracuse. Last season, she was named to the AVCA Division I All-America Honorable Mention list.
All teams will play each other once during the two days. The Gators begin play against North Florida (25-8 last season) Friday at 7 p.m..
The Gators play two matches against two familiar coaches Saturday. First, taking on East Tennessee State at noon. Head coach Benavia Jenkins (1999-2003) earned All-American honors three times during her Florida career and led the Gators to two Final Four appearances and the championship match in 2003.
Later at 7 p.m., the Gators face their most familiar opponent in Virginia. Former associate head coach Shannon Wells spent the past seven years at UF before becoming the UVA head coach in April 2021. Former Buchholz Bobcat Kate Johnson will make her debut for the Cavaliers.
Speaking of familiarity, the Gators added on former libero Caroline Knop as their volunteer assistant coach.