A soft applause and some smiles came from Ben Hill Griffin Stadium as the Florida Gators volleyball squad found out they would be playing arch-rival Florida State for the first round of the 2018 NCAA Tournament during the selection show Sunday night.
It wasn’t a surprise at all.
“We saw this coming for a few weeks,” coach Mary Wise said Tuesday.
This is the first time since 2011 that the Gators are not hosting the first and second rounds of the NCAA Tournament in Gainesville.
Florida (24-6, 15-3 SEC) enters the tournament unseeded for the fourth time in program history.
The Gators will face off against the Seminoles (19-9, 11-2 ACC) at the University of Central Florida on Thursday at 4:30 p.m. The winner of Thursday’s matchup will play the winner of the UCF vs. Florida Gulf Coast contest Friday evening at 7.
“I think we’re two very evenly matched teams playing on a neutral court,” Wise said. “It’s as good of a first-round matchup as there is.”
The Gators defeated the Seminoles earlier this season 3-1 on the road in Tallahassee. Freshman outside hitter Thayer Hall led the team with 12 kills during the match and junior middle blocker Rachael Kramer led the roster with six blocks.
The Seminoles are on a two-game win streak coming off road matches against North Carolina and NC State.
Junior outside hitter Payton Caffrey leads Florida State’s roster with 462 kills on 1,115 swings this season. She also leads the roster in service aces at 25 and points at 521.5. Caffrey was also named the ACC Volleyball Player of the Year on Monday.
“Just because we’re familiar with them doesn’t necessarily mean we can stop them,” Wise said. “They’ve got plenty of great arms.”
Some of the other teams in Florida’s bracket include 12th-seeded Pittsburgh, fifth-seeded Texas and fourth-seeded BYU.
However, storied teams like UCLA did not make this year’s tournament, proving no spot is guaranteed in the bracket of 64.
“They’re a pretty top-notch team, and we battled them to get to the Final Four last year,” senior Taelor Kellum said shaking her head. “I think not seeing them in the tournament this year was a big shock, but it just shows that anything can happen if you take it for advantage. Things happen.”
In the NCAA Tournament, Florida holds a perfect 21-0 record in the first round. The Gators are 6-6 against teams they faced earlier this season that made it into the tournament.
“I think the most important this is one that we’re playing and that we’re celebrating the fact that this program is now playing in its 28th consecutive tournament,” Wise said. “That piece cannot go unstated how great a feat that is.”
Follow Mari Faiello on Twitter @faiello_mari or contact her at email@example.com.
Middle blocker Taelor Kellum (10) recorded eight kills in Florida's 3-0 win over South Carolina on Friday.