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Saturday, April 13, 2024

In the quest to win their first volleyball national championship, the Gators won’t have to go very far.

The NCAA Tournament bracket came out on Sunday, and it was announced that No. 15 Florida (23-5, 16-4 Southeastern Conference) will play at the O’Connell Center for the first and second rounds. Gainesville will also be one of four regional sites, which were predetermined before the season. The Final Four will be held in Tampa on Dec. 17-19.

“We had anticipated and made preparations to go on the road,” coach Mary Wise said. “We figured we would be in Tallahassee, so it came as a surprise to us — but in this case, it was a pleasant surprise.”

UF received the No. 16 overall seed and will play its first round match Thursday against College of Charleston (18-12, 12-4 Southern Conference) at 7:30 p.m. Miami and Florida International make up the other half of the Gators’ bracket.

“I think our 16th seed was a result of who we played and the fact that we did have five wins over those top teams (Stanford, Florida State, Kentucky and Tennessee),” Wise said.

But before Sunday’s selection show, UF had to finish off its regular season over the weekend.

On Saturday, UF honored seniors Elyse Cusack and Kristina Johnson before a 3-1 win (25-13, 27-29, 25-15, 25-9) over No. 25 Notre Dame (21-6, 14-0 Big East).

Cusack served the first ball of the match while still emotional from the pregame ceremony.

“I think one of the hardest things I’ve ever done since I’ve been here was that first serve because I was still fighting back tears,” she said. “I had to get over it really fast and start the match.”

However on a day that honored the seniors, a junior stole the show.

Opposite hitter Callie Rivers knocked down a season-high 14 kills to go along with a .500 hitting efficiency and seven digs.

“It was the perfect match for us going into the postseason to play a team with little preparation time and a team we are not as familiar with,” Wise said.

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The Gators were also able to experience a little adversity before they entered the postseason as five service errors in a single frame led to a second-set loss.

UF responded well as it went on to block seven balls in the next two sets and grab control of the match.

The one-setter offense was used for most of the weekend as sophomore setter Kelly Murphy thrived in the scheme once again. She totalled 21 kills, 69 assists and dug up 16 balls during the weekend.

In Friday’s sweep of South Carolina (14-16, 5-15 SEC), the new offense led to a dominant 3-0 win (25-14, 25-8, 25-12) and gave Wise her 600th career victory at UF.

The Gators recorded a season-high hitting efficiency of .519 against South Carolina and only committed six attack errors.

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