You’re not allowed to say “no-hitter” in baseball at the risk of jinxing the pitchers groove.
The theatre world gasps at any actor who dares say the word “Macbeth” in the building.
And in sports, it’s a general unwritten rule that you don’t talk about a National Championship unless you plan on falling short.
Some teams have tried to circumnavigate the curse.
The Georgia Bulldogs football team went into the 2012 season with high expectations and made no secret about it, only to come up 5 yards short in the SEC Championship Game.
The superstitious part of athletes wants to stay away from this subject for fear of some cosmic force taking away their dream. The logical part of their brain says by looking to far ahead, it takes the focus off of the “next game up” mentality, and that in and of itself can trip up a team in that actual next game.
But every now and then, a team will come along with the right amount of talent, chemistry and drive that they feel confident enough to make their own rules.
Thus is the case with the 2015 No. 4 Florida Gators Volleyball team.
Head Coach Mary Wise and her girls are not only thinking of the lofty goal, they’re openly discussing it.
“We actually had an overnight trip and that was one of our main talks, like what were our goals for the season,” explained junior right side-hitter Alex Holston.
“Of course we said SEC Championship, a Final Four and of course we all want that National Championship.”
That statement alone isn’t unusual. It’s what followed that catches the attention.
“We actually talk about it a lot, and not just in the back of our heads, but like in the locker room during practice, during our meetings, that’s something we really all focus [on] and we talk about so we all really want it.”
Locker room, practice and meetings adds up to a lot of conversations about the goal every single team in the country wants to achieve. But this team, and this group of players really feel that all of the tools are in place to bring home that trophy.
“I think it’s just a good feeling about this year,” explained Holston.
“This year we’re changing things up a little bit so we’re not only working on our volleyball skills but we’re working on our character skills too and how to be a better teammate.”
They’re doing this in large part by simply expanding their vocabulary.
“The Team Glossary” as they have aptly named it, is a list of six words, three performance words and three moral words. These were whittled down from 26 words originally.
The list reads along the lines of social awareness, focused, appreciation, character, resilience, and confidence.
“We actually just got quizzed for it; our coach just gave us a quiz, we all had to get 100%… we all passed, on our second try,” Holston admitted.
But passing was all that mattered, as Wise looks for new ways to inspire this promising team.
“What I love is how much the players have embraced it,” says Wise.
“It’s really what we’ve tried to do here over the past twenty years, it’s just packaging it a little different and trying for the players to understand the game as we’re involving our own volleyball skills, we can also involve our character skills.”
And as that character grows off the court, the volleyball benefits on the court.
Wise explains saying, “What we’re doing is using volleyball to grow character. So if the word, in our glossary is resilient, and our definition is to bounce back, there will be times in volleyball, and it happens often, where you get an opportunity to grow your resiliency. You’ve just missed a serve, you’ve been aced, you got blocked, how do you bounce back from that to the very next play? There’s very little time between serves so you’ve got to be able to generate those skills that allow you to learn from the mistake and move on.”
Learning from mistakes will likely be possible in the early part of this Florida Gators Volleyball team’s schedule.
Teams like No. 3 Texas and No. 13 Oregon both get a shot at the Gators during the first weekend of September. But the opportunity to gather a game plan for the loaded SEC conference following those matches was too good to pass up.
“Well that’s what we’ve tried to do every year in the preseason, to schedule as tough an opponent’s as we could to help our team learn because we understand, that’s the only way you really know about your team, by playing against the very best. And by that, taking those lessons into the SEC season,” says Wise.
Wise will have tons of experience coming into those matches though, including Rhamat Alhassan, Mackenzie Dagostino and Alex Holston who were named to the nine player Preseason All-SEC Team.
Holston was also named the 2014 SEC Player of the Year and Alhassan was tabbed as the 2014 SEC Freshman of the Year.
Wise returns 12 letterwinners total while adding three newcomers.
“The benefit of having a majority of the group since last January really helps,” said Wise. “With so many returning players, (freshman MB) Taelor Kellum graduated (high school) mid-year — all but two players have been with us since January.”
By virtue of that fact, the coaching staff has already been able to put a finger on a pulse of this team.
“What we know is we’re a team with all of our point scorers returning. We love what we’re doing with some offensive things and right now we’re trying to figure out how we replace the three mainstays in the back row.”
There’s little doubt that Wise will quickly find the right combination on defense though, along with fixing any other problems that arise in that early schedule.
Now in her 25th season as head coach for the Florida Gators Volleyball team, she has accumulated a 742-88 record. That’s a .894 winning percentage.
The numbers from the 2014 season alone gives a clear snapshot of the program Wise has built in Gainesville.
During the 2014 run the Gators (28-4) finished their 13th undefeated SEC schedule to pick up the program’s 21st SEC Championship — all under Mary Wise.
She’s the nation’s winningest coach since 1991 and the ninth winningest all time coach in the NCAA.
There is one entry on the resume though that has been absent and looming for quite some time, that allusive National Championship which Holston says this team is so focused on.
Middle blocker Simone Antwi says finally bringing Wise that accomplishment is a large part of this team’s motivation.
“We want to be that team to win the National Championship for Mary. And SEC, we want to win SEC too but the National Championship, it pushes us more to work harder in the gym, work harder in the weight room, and the classroom. It’d be nice to be that first team and do it for Mary.”
As for Mary Wise, she’s encouraging talk of what is generally unspoken of in sports, saying that if these girls have the opportunity, then why not take it?
“We’re embracing it. There’s a lot of teams that started training camp that it wouldn’t be part of their dialogue, but the fact that this team understands that we’re one of a whole group of teams in the country that has a chance, and we just want to put ourselves in a position in our work everyday to have that opportunity come December.”
That journey will officially begin on August 29 when the Florida Gators Volleyball team faces James Madison. From there it’s day by day, match by match, as Mary Wise and her team of motivated girls let everyone know exactly where they’re headed.