Florida finishes No. 11 in final poll

The 2011 Florida Gator volleyball team finished No. 11 in the American Volleyball Coaches Association poll, marking the 21st consecutive season that the Gators are among the nation’s Top 15 in the final poll. The Orange and Blue also notched their first Elite Eight appearance since 2005.

The Gators finished the season with an NCAA-best .309 hitting percentage. They also leads the nation with 659 total wins since 1991.

Florida finished the 2011 season with a 27-6 record, marking the Gators’ 21st consecutive 25-win seasons. Florida has been in the AVCA poll for 321 consecutive weeks, dating back to Sept. 17, 1991. It’s the nation’s fifth-longest streak of consecutive weeks ranked.

Heading into the NCAA tournament unseeded, the Gators flew out to Cedar Rapid, Iowa, to face their first and second round opponents on the University of Northern Iowa Panthers’ campus. They defeated both future Southeastern Conference opponent Missouri and No. 6 overall seeded Northern Iowa 3-1. Florida defeated Mizzou 23-25, 25-16, 25-20, 25-16 and then came out victorious against the Panthers16-25, 25-14, 25-14, 25-22.

The Gators then earned a return trip home to Gainesville where they hosted the NCAA Regionals in the Stephen C. O’Connell Center. Florida then knocked off Michigan in a 3-0 sweep 25-21, 25-13, 27-25.

As the Gators advanced to the Elite Eight, they registered the school record for hitting percentage.

“.439 is the highest that any Florida team has hit at this round of the NCAA Tournament,” Florida coach Mary Wise said. “We’ve said we thought our team was playing its very best.

“Well, no Gator team has had an offense at that level. “

The Gators then had their toughest battle of the season against the No. 3 overall seeded and eventual national runner-up Illinois for a chance to advance to the NCAA Final Four in San Antonio, Texas.

Illinois took the first set, 25-22, but the Gators responded with a second stanza victory, 23-25, and the two teams to head into intermission tied at 1-1. Out of intermission, the Fighting Illini dominated the third set, 25-14 and then closed out the match with a 25-20 win.

“I was really impressed with how we were able come through and fight in every single match,” senior right-side hitter and setter Kelly Murphy said. “We might not have started out well but everyone found a way to step it up and we made it past the Sweet 16, which is something that I haven’t been able to do until this year. It was just a lot of fun playing with this team.”

The 2011 NCAA Champion UCLA Bruins (30-6) grabbed each of the 60 first-place votes to rank No. 1 in the AVCA’s final poll, while national runner-up Illinois (30-5) was No. 2. National semifinalist Southern California (29-5) and overall No. 1 seed Texas (25-5) finished third and fourth. No. 5 Hawai’i (31-2) wrapped up the AVCA’s poll final top-five.

“For me, I couldn’t be prouder of the way that we fought,” senior outside hitter Kristy Jaeckel said. “Going into the tournament we were an unseeded team, but we went out and we fought as hard as we could and I think that we played the best volleyball that we have all season.

“(The loss vs. Illinois) didn’t go our way but I couldn’t be more proud of everyone who stepped up and took their game to the next level these last couple of weeks.”

2011 AVCA Division I Coaches Top 25 Poll (FINAL)

Rank Team Record

1 UCLA (60) 30-6

2 Illinois 30-5

3 Southern California 29-5

4 Texas 25-5

5 Hawai’i 31-2

6 Pepperdine 25-7

7 Florida State 28-7

8 Iowa State 25-6

9 Penn State 25-8

10 Purdue 29-5

11 Florida 27-6

12 Nebraska 25-5

13 Kentucky 28-6

14 Stanford 22-8

15 Minnesota 20-12

16 California 26-7

17 Washington 24-8

18 Northern Iowa 33-2

19 Tennessee 28-4

T-20 Michigan 22-13

T-20 San Diego 28-5

22 Kansas State 22-11

23 Ohio State 20-15

24 Oregon 21-10

25 Colorado State 24-6

Others Receiving Votes and appearing on two or more ballots: Miami (FL), Long Beach State, North Carolina, Dayton, Western Kentucky, Michigan State, Texas A&M, Arizona, Tulsa, Cincinnati

Florida’s All-Time Final AVCA Rankings

Season Final AVCA Ranking

1991 10

1992 5

1993 14

1994 14

1995 6

1996 4

1997 4

1998 4

1999 5

2000 12

2001 6

2002 4

2003 2

2004 15

2005 3

2006 10

2007 8

2008 10

2009 15

2010 8

2011 11

Gator Country reporter Elizabeth Rhodes can be reached at lizxxbeth@gators.ufl.edu.