The NCAA volleyball tournament begins Thursday with a No. 4 seed Florida Gators team hosting the Florida Gulf Coast Eagles in the first round of the upper-left bracket. The Gators will be the biggest challenge that Florida Gulf Coast has faced this season outside of Texas.
Gulf Coast’s Road to the Tournament
The Eagles have had a strong season under head coach Matt Botsford, who boasts a 210-66 record in his 10-year tenure and a 26-6 record this season. Florida Gulf Coast recorded a 15-1 conference record including an ASUN Conference Championship, this season. Here is what Botsford had to say about FGCU’s efforts toward tournament qualification.
FGCU has been dominant in the ASUN this season, ranking at the top of the conference in opponent’s hitting percentage (.176), opponent’s assists (10.24 per set) and blocks (2.38 per set). Moreover, their defense seems to suffocate the attack of their opponents, giving their own attackers more chances to score. Botsford said the increased balance on the team has helped them succeed.
By working as a unit, the Eagles hope to be able to play up to the level of higher-ranked opponents and make a run in the NCAA tournament.
Matchup Against the Gators
It’s no secret that Florida are the favorites against FGCU Thursday. Florida holds a winning record in a tough SEC that includes eight tournament teams this year. Additionally, the Gators have dealt with numerous injuries this season, but have still found success off the back of freshman Kennedy Martin’s SEC-leading 4.35 kills per set. Botsford had praise for Mary Wise’s roster this season.
Botsford and Florida Gulf Coast are not afraid. The Eagles haven’t had the same competition, but have proved that they can dominate teams. However, it’ll be tough for them to overpower the stars of Florida. Botsford said they can win if they can stick together and maintain focus.
The defensive side of the ball has to stay solid for FGCU. Specifically, limiting Martin should be the main priority for the Eagles, as her dynamic scoring and power will be the way that Florida tries to open up the game.
First serve is at 7 p.m. at the O’Dome Thursday.