Mary Wise

A win in Friday’s Sweet 16 matchup against UCLA would put the Gators one win away from breaking the 14-year drought of not making the NCAA Final Four.

Alan Alvarez / Alligator Staff

Just five days from Christmas 2003, the Gators volleyball team was in Dallas, hoping to win its first national title and avenge its only loss of the season against undefeated Southern California.

But it didn’t, and UF coach Mary Wise’s record in the NCAA championship match dropped to 0-1.

Florida hasn’t made it to the Final Four since.

This year, a 27-1 Gators team — the No. 2 overall seed in the NCAA Tournament’s field of 64 — has a chance to make history. A win in Friday’s Sweet 16 matchup against UCLA would put them one win away from breaking the 14-year drought.

“We want to go to the Final Four,” senior Rhamat Alhassan said after Florida’s first-round win over Alabama State on Thursday. “We want to win a national championship. But in order to do that, we have to take the small steps.”

Florida is 10-1 against NCAA Tournament teams this year and has the tools to compete for a championship: star power (five All-SEC selections), an elite defense, senior leadership and a future Hall of Famer for a coach in Wise.

Wise recently earned her 900th career win as a head coach, padding her lead over all other female Division I coaches.

While Florida’s volleyball players have ample respect for their coach, often referring to her as a role model or mother figure, Wise is quick to parry the credit back to them.

“This program’s success is a reflection of the talent that’s come through it,” Wise said.

The Gators can continue that success Friday at home against the 15th-seeded Bruins (21-10).

Thanks to its No. 2 seed, Florida is a host school, meaning that if it continues to win, it will play on its home court up to the Final Four.

Should UF beat UCLA in the regional semifinals on Friday, it would play No. 7 Minnesota or No. 10 Southern California in the Regional Finals on Saturday. The tournament will conclude with the Final Four on Dec. 14 and national championship on Dec. 16 in Kansas City, Missouri.

You can follow Andrew Huang on Twitter @AndrewJHuang, and contact him at [email protected].

Andrew Huang is a sports writer for the Alligator and covers the University of Florida volleyball team. He has worked at the paper since Spring 2017.