The Gators play their first match Wednesday after six months of holding meetings on Zoom and completing workouts at home hundreds of miles away from each other.
Florida starts its shortened fall season against the Tigers in Auburn, Alabama, on the SEC Network at 8 p.m.
This will be coach Mary Wise’s 30th year with Florida and her 34th year coaching volleyball. She told FloridaGators.com there wasn’t anything she hadn’t seen during her tenure until 2020.
"As coaches, we're all control freaks," Wise told FloridaGators.com. "Our systems, our traditions, our policies and procedures, not that we don't morph over time and change, but things that have worked we've stuck with. This is all brand new. Many times I've had to say, 'I just don't know. I'm learning on the fly just like you.' No one knows."
This year’s squad looks for redemption after Minnesota eliminated them in the NCAA tournament’s regional semifinals.
Eleven players from last year’s team are returning.
Rachel Kramer, a middle blocker and the tallest player in program history at 6-foot-8, is one of four seniors that left after graduating. She finished her UF career top five in school history in blocks, block assists and hitting percentage.
The Gators also lost libero Allie Gregory, who played in at least 30 matches each season and tallied more than 1,000 digs in her four years at Florida. To supplement their losses, the Gators added four players, including three ranked in the top 40 nationally, through their 2020 recruiting class. Outside hitter T’ara Ceasar transferred from Georgia on Nov. 19, 2018, and is eligible this season after sitting out last year following NCAA transfer rules.
On Sept. 9, the conference announced that its teams would play an eight-match, conference-only schedule, where Florida and its counterparts will play the four SEC schools closest to them. The four closest schools to Gainesville are Auburn, Alabama, South Carolina and Georgia.
The season will also carry over into the winter months. That portion of the schedule will be announced at a later date.
Junior Thayer Hall was named to the All-SEC Preseason Team. One of her biggest lessons from last year was that she needed to have a better mindset heading into games.
“My biggest takeaway from this season is treating every opponent as if they are a Sweet 16 team that we’re going to see in the Elite 8 or Final Four,” Hall said in an interview with The Alligator on May 11.
She wants to focus on every game so it's second nature for her once tournament play starts.
None of the teams the Gators are scheduled to play are in the American Coaches Volleyball Association’s top-25 rankings, so Hall’s desired mindset will be put to the test early.
The SEC tabbed No. 4 Florida to finish second in its preseason poll behind No. 3 Kentucky. The Wildcats collected 11 first-place votes while the Gators gathered two.
Auburn, their opponent Wednesday and Thursday, has only won two games out of the 52 times the programs have met.
Finally, Hall and the team have one goal in mind for the 2020 season — help Wise win her first national championship.
“I want to be part of Mary’s first squad to bring home a ring,” she said. “We have all the tools to do that, and we’re fully equipped to go all the way.”
Contact Zachary Huber at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @zacharyahuber.
Outside hitter Thayer Hall celebrates in home match against Kentucky last season. This year, Hall was named to the All-SEC Preseason Team.