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Saturday, January 28, 2023

After typical dominating season, Gators get ready for 'true season' in tourney

A 25-win season capped off by a 17th-consecutive Southeastern Conference title was practically a formality.

Now, the UF volleyball team's true season begins.

After Oklahoma and Florida A&M open up the Gainesville Sub-Regional round of the 2007 NCAA Tournament, the Gators will face College of Charleston in their first-round match this evening. The match is scheduled to start at 7:30 but could begin later if the early match goes long.

The No. 10 Gators (27-2, 19-1 SEC), will also host a regional round of the NCAA Tournament.

"We feel very fortunate," UF coach Mary Wise said. "Last year, only two of the four regional host teams got to play at home [for the first two rounds]. We were fully expecting to go on the road."

UF had been preparing to leave Gainesville as early as Tuesday depending on where they were assigned these preliminary matches.

"The advantage of playing at home, I don't think you can even quantify," Wise said.

She also speculated that if FAMU and Charleston were not within driving distance of Gainesville, the Gators would likely be playing on the road.

For UF's seniors, their final national tournament brings mixed feelings.

"It's kind of sad because it's our last go-around, but at the same time it's a big,'Let's go get 'em' kind of thing," Kisya Killingsworth said.

UF will be without leading attacker Marcie Hampton, who ruptured her Achilles tendon in Saturday's match against Long Beach State.

Senior setter Angie McGinnis said that in order to play well without Hampton, the Gators are likely to switch to a rotation involving three middle blockers on the floor at the same time, including two in the front row.

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"It's going to be a little bit of a quicker offense than we have been running all year," McGinnis said. "We practiced it a little bit in the beginning of the season but never really went with it."

McGinnis said she is eager to start the competition and knows that the regular season no longer matters.

"You all start off zero and zero," she said. "Everyone has a clean slate. All the teams are the top teams in the country, and you know you have to play your best to win no matter who it is, even if people think it's a weaker first-round opponent. It doesn't matter; they can come in and upset anybody."

The weaker first-round opponent in this case would be Charleston (26-7, 16-2 Southern Conference). UF has never played the Cougars, but the Gators are 3-0 all-time against the Southern Conference. Two of those three wins came in the opening rounds of the NCAA Tournament.

Still, past trends don't always provide rock-solid predictions, and with seven-straight conference titles and three-straight NCAA Tournament berths of their own, the Cougars may provide more than enough fight for a first-round matchup.

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