Mackenzie Dagostino is looking at the NCAA Tournament as a chance to break the mold.
A chance to beat the teams that beat Florida during its preconference schedule.
A chance to make up for all of its early exits from the tournament in the past.
And most importantly, a chance to show the world of collegiate volleyball that Florida is for real.
And for Dagostino, it all started with the final game of the regular season – a 3-2 win over then-No. 3 Texas.
"We were going in there we were like, ‘You know, we have nothing to lose. We’re just going to play our volleyball – Gator volleyball – as hard as we can,’ and that’s exactly what we did," Dagostino said. "We went in there, we said ‘We’re coming in, it’s going to be our court and when we’re done we’ll give it back to you,’ and that’s exactly what we did. We played like it was our gym, our fans, our court and when we were done we gave it back. That was a big statement for us to make coming into the tournament saying you know ‘we’re not going to back down because of a label...’"
The theme of the season hasn’t been to just get to the tournament but to get there as a better team. One that Florida can be confident in no matter who’s playing.
To say that any combination of players from Florida’s roster that steps on the court at any given time is bound to give any team a run for its money sounds cliche, but it’s a fact coach Mary Wise has preached all season.
But there’s one tandem that sticks out among the rest and that’s right-side hitter Alex Holston and Dagostino.
The duo has been known for their ability to set up unstoppable kills and have made it difficult to track plays.
Wise has said all season that Dagostino is an elite level athlete, while Holston is a left-handed potential All-American that has a cannon for an arm.
"Well you remember, Alex is playing behind Mackenzie — although I think sometimes that Mackenzie has eyes in the back of her head — ...it has to be by feel because she (Dagostino) can’t see Alex whether Alex is in the front row or the back row. ...Those two have really found a rhythm together," Wise said,
The behind-the-back sets Dagostino has created for Holston throughout the season has made Florida more versatile in its front court and is partly why the Gators haven’t lost since Sept. 19.
The combination plays the two set up have become one of Florida’s biggest weapons aside from the ever popular 6-foot-4 freshman Rhamat Alhassan and they don’t even have to talk to each other.
Dagostino said one look is all it takes for the two to communicate, something Dagostino said is a major asset on a team as deep as Florida is.
"It’s kind of like a silent bond," Dagostino said. "Alex is, she’s a quieter person, but when she’s on the court it’s such a confidence builder between both of us to be able to look at each other and go, ‘Hey, you good? I’m good, are you good? Yeah I’m good.’ And then that’s it and it’s just knowing that if I start to struggle I can look at Alex and if Alex starts to struggle then she can look at me and we can just say, ‘Hey we got each other.’"
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Mackenzie Dagostino sets the ball during Florida's 3-0 win against Alabama on Friday in the O'Connell Center.