Florida volleyball coach Mary Wise knew what her team was getting itself into this past weekend.
A cross-country trip to Eugene, Oregon.
A season-opening date with Nebraska, the nation’s top-ranked squad.
And a slew of milestones. For eight members of UF’s 18-woman roster, Friday night represented their first taste of collegiate action.
It was a trial by fire. And Wise was pleased with her group’s showing at the weekend’s VERT Challenge, even though the Gators lost their opener for the first time since 2003.
“I think any college coach would tell you there is no substitute for experience, and that’s at every level — whether it’s going from high school to college, college to international, international to the Olympics,” she said Monday.
“There is a learning curve, and you can’t fast forward that.”
One look at this weekend’s contributors reveals just how steep that learning curve is.
Setter Allie Monserez missed the 2015 season due to transfer regulations.
Redshirt junior Shainah Joseph earned a starting spot after sitting out last year.
Caroline Knop was pinned as the successor to the recently graduated Nikki O’Rourke despite having not played libero since high school.
Taelor Kellum tripled her 2015 kill count in a single match on Saturday.
The list goes on.
It uncovers a level of inexperience that Florida volleyball is unfamiliar with, but it also points to a sense of this talented group’s dedication.
Since the start of summer, Wise’s athletes have met for informal practices, voluntarily working out during a time when NCAA rules prohibited the program’s coach from organizing team activities.
“This is a team, really, I think more so than any group we’ve had in terms of the work that they’re willing to put in outside the gym,” Wise said.
“I think that transcends to helping us be a better team because a lot of it is, what kind of preparation are you willing to do away from the practice when we are limited to no practice time?”
Opting for that kind of preparation has helped the team gel, and although it’ll take time to iron out the kinks that inevitably form in pressure situations, it has set Florida off on the right foot.
Saturday’s turnaround victory against Oregon proved as much.
In their first back-to-back slate of the year, the Gators managed to adjust to one of the fastest attacks in the nation, showing their resiliency by splitting their weekend series.
“As we talked to them after the weekend, the record’s 1-1, and yet we know so much more about ourselves (than if) we played a 2-0 weekend,” Wise said.
In the end, Wise said, it all boils down to experience.
“Next time we play a team that runs a fast offense, we can say, ‘Yes, that’s fast, but not as fast as Oregon’s,’ or, ‘This is a team...their back row is so good, (but) maybe not quite like Nebraska’s’,” Wise said.
“We have comparisons, and that really helps the players.”