Faces painted in orange and blue led the chants of the Florida student section to rally the crowd into a ball of vocal fire. The rowdy spectators provided an electric atmosphere for two crucial postseason matches.
Across Dec. 2 and 3, Gators volleyball felt the push of nearly 5,500 fans packed into the Stephen C. O’Connell Center. For the last time this season, Florida fans gave UF home court advantage.
The Gators hosted the first and second rounds of the NCAA women’s volleyball tournament over the weekend, welcoming Florida Gulf Coast, Florida A&M and Iowa State to Gainesville. No. 12 Florida rammed through FAMU and Iowa State in straight sets to advance to the round of 16.
The atmosphere was electric for many avid followers of the team, including Dianne and Dan Vermillion, volleyball season ticket holders of 20 years.
“We had a lot of fans, a lot of the student population showed up,” Dan said. “We were loud and we did a good job, as far as the fans are concerned, doing their part supporting the team.”
Almost 400 more spectators showed up for the Dec. 3 second-round clash with Iowa State. Cyclones fans adorned in red and gold, who made the nearly 1,300-mile trip from Ames, Iowa, to Gainesville filled the seats adjacent to the student section, prompting many back-and-forth exchanges.
Kirk and Amy Hatch, who traveled from Arizona to watch their daughter, Iowa State senior outside hitter Annie Hatch, said they spent time at the UF Bat Houses and Lake Alice before heading to the game.
Amy described the atmosphere of the weekend as exciting and optimistic.
Iowa State beat FGCU through five nail-biting sets Dec. 2. Facing Florida in the O’Dome, Amy voiced confidence in the Cyclones’ ability to compete in such a hostile environment.
“[We have] nothing to lose,” she said.
Chants of “Cyclones” and “Gators” fired between the two sections, but it would be the Florida faithful who enjoyed the last laugh.
One member of the UF student section brought with him a large dry-erase board, writing messages to taunt the Cyclones and their fans. Jeers of the all-too-familiar “nah nah nah, hey hey, goodbye” chorus rained down on the court as a Florida sweep appeared imminent.
After UF secured the win, the passionate student section remained for several minutes to savor the final moments of volleyball in the O’Dome in 2022. Gators head coach Mary Wise walked across the court and waved to the students, smiling ear-to-ear.
“You could feel the energy,” Wise said. “When [Elli McKissock and Merritt Beason] were going back on service runs, you can just feel how they get all the Gator fans in the O’Dome and their energy behind them.”
Historically, student support at UF postseason games hasn’t been strong, Wise added. To see such a large turnout pleased the veteran coach, who’s searching for her first national championship in her 32nd season in Gainesville.
“That whole section with the students and the band — they've been great all year,” Wise said.
Frank Didsbury and Mary Craig, long-time friends who separately moved to Gainesville to take advantage of attending UF sporting events, said they enjoy attending most of the marquee Gators sports: football, baseball, volleyball and women’s basketball.
“[Attendance] has been pretty good all year, to be honest with you,” Didsbury said. “You're not going to get 10,000 people on a Tuesday night or something like that, but for the most part it's been pretty decent.”
Craig has followed the development of Wise’s young team and appreciates how dedicated each player is to chasing a national title.
“They want to come to Florida,” Craig said. “They want to play for these coaches that we have. It’s very exciting.”
Craig highlighted UF freshman setter Alexis Stucky as a player to keep an eye on, saying she had “big shoes to fill” with former setter Marlie Monserez departing after the 2021 season ended in the round of 16.
“It seems like every year we have these types of players,” Didsbury added. “Mary does a good job recruiting and placing people where they can excel.”
The Gators top players gave their fans plenty to cheer for over the course of the weekend, with Beason and senior outside hitter Marina Markova recording 18 kills to pace a Gators team that never lost a set.
With UF’s home schedule concluded, the Gators will travel to Madison, Wisconsin, to take on the Pittsburgh Panthers in the round of 16 Dec. 8. If the Gators pull out the win, they will face either No. 2 Wisconsin or No. 11 Penn State in the Elite 8.
Thursday’s match will be broadcast on ESPNU, with first serve scheduled for 3:30 p.m.
Ethan Eibe is a second-year UF sports media major and covers Gators baseball for The Alligator. Outside of his writing, Ethan is a play-by-play broadcaster for UF student radio and has spent two summers announcing professional baseball with the Alpine Cowboys. He is a long-suffering Miami Marlins fan.
Brandon Hernandez is currently the enterprise sports writer and sports podcast host for The Independent Alligator. He likes long walks on the sidewalk and watching basketball tape in his off time. You can find most of his work @BranH2001 on X and on The Courtside Podcast on Spotify.