Florida’s volleyball team begins its 2018 regular season against No. 2 Nebraska tonight at 7 and No. 3 Texas on Saturday in the Vert Challenge taking place in Lincoln, Nebraska.
In 2017, the Cornhuskers beat the Gators to end Florida’s season one win short of its first NCAA championship trophy in school history.
For the 2018 season, Nebraska returns with much of its offensive firepower and is expected to test the Florida defense.
Senior outside hitter Mikaela Foecke is primed to lead the way for the Cornhuskers just as she did in 2017. With 441 kills on 3.53 kills per set, Foecke helped lead an offense that was strong and accurate. The team ended the 2017 season with an NCAA Championship on the strength of its 13th-ranked hitting percentage (.282).
Nebraska also brought in five freshmen over the summer, including setter Nicklin Hames and outside hitter Capri Davis. Hames is predicted to be in the starting lineup for her debut match while Davis will battle for the outside hitting spot opposite of Foecke.
Florida hopes to counter this highly anticipated offense with impenetrable defense and skilled players at every spot on the court.
“The defense on this team is out of this world,” Florida middle blocker Rachael Kramer said. “It’s better than last year.”
Hard to believe her words after the Gators finished the 2017 season third in the nation in opponent hitting percentage (.144) and saw the graduation of Rhamat Alhassan, who led the nation in blocks per set with 1.70.
Even with the holes left by the graduating class, Florida is optimistic that the new additions on its team will step up and fill in.
Freshman Thayer Hall, who had 361 digs and 36 blocks during her senior season in high school, is projected to crack the starting lineup and be an anchor defensively in the back row. Coach Mary Wise also spoke adamantly about freshmen Paula Cerame’s and Riley Fischer’s defensive abilities and how they will be utilized this season.
“[Cerame and Fischer] were their teams’ best defensive players in high school,” Wise said. “We know they have it in them.”
Cerame led her team with 259 digs and earned a PrepVolleyball.com High School All-America Special Mention while Fischer was named to the 2017 PrepVolleyball.com Defensive Dandies after she totaled 412 digs and 325 serves received.
Wise also noted that the team’s defense should be spurred by the foot speed and grit in the front row. 6-foot-6 freshman Lauren Dooley and 6-foot-7 North Carolina sophomore transfer Holly Carlton are two significant additions that are expected to be next to Kramer for what Wise hopes to be a suffocating defense at the net.
Wise believes that both the Nebraska and Texas matchups will help show where the team is against some of the best competition in the country.
“It’s why you schedule these matches…to know what we have and what we need to work on,” Wise said, “and we’re going to know from the first set on Friday night.”
You can follow Dylan Rudolph on Twitter @dyrudolph or contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Middle blocker Rachael Kramer (left) said she believes this year's Gators squad is better than last season's. "The defense on this team is out of this world," she said.