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Friday, June 21, 2024

The UF volleyball team is back in action tonight - and in black.

The No. 7 Gators will debut their new black uniforms today when they open the season against Illinois State at 8 p.m. EST in Normal, Ill. It will mark the first time in the Gators? 24-year history that they have donned black.

After opening the season with the Redbirds, the Gators will head to South Bend, Ind., to face Notre Dame on Sunday at 7 p.m.

Tonight is also the first time in four seasons UF will start the season away from the cozy confines of the O?Connell Center.

Coach Mary Wise said the O-Dome wasn't available to host a match this weekend due to the floor being redone.

Last season, the Gators swept the Redbirds 3-0 in Gainesville. It was a family affair, as senior setter Angie McGinnis faced off against her younger sister Mary, who was a freshman outside hitter for Illinois State. That won't be the case tonight, as Mary transferred to Madonna University for the 2007 season.

Still, the Gators look forward to playing in front of a huge crowd tonight.

"The fun thing for our team will be Illinois State has historically drawn as well as any women's volleyball team in the Midwest, or even around the country," Wise said. "They'll have a great crowd there [tonight]."

UF lost to Notre Dame 3-0 the last time they met - in 2005 at the UTSA Dome Rally in San Antonio, Texas. This past spring, however, the Gators defeated the Fighting Irish 2-0 in two different scrimmages.

Although unranked, Notre Dame was picked by Big East coaches to win the league and sports two preseason All-Big East players.

The Gators had a double dose of practice Wednesday, including a mentally draining afternoon session working mainly on defensive rotations. The players were thrown a lot of information at once and initially struggled, but had fewer and fewer missed assignments by the end of the drill.

Wise stressed the importance of making sure players know what position they are playing when they check in for someone, and to ask if necessary.

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UF will look to use its height to its advantage this weekend, as its roster contains five players taller than 6-foot-1, compared to only two for Illinois State and one for Notre Dame.

Wise reminded her team to use this to their advantage - to make sure they play "above the net."

After weeks of facing no one but each other, the team looks forward to facing some different competition.

"It'll be good for our freshmen to get some on-the-road experience," sophomore libero Elyse Cusack said, "and also for us to get going."

Wise knows this will be a tricky weekend to get through, but looks for her team's experience to carry them through it.

"I would never take a young team on this road trip first weekend of the season," Wise said. "This team could do this."

This weekend?s matches will be televised live on Sun Sports, two of seven TV broadcasts scheduled for the season.

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