Hampton out for NCAA tourney

The news, now official, is not good.

An MRI confirmed what doctors had suspected: Marcie Hampton, Florida’s standout volleyball player, sustained a ruptured Achilles in her left leg, will undergo surgery Wednesday and miss the rest of the season.

UF volleyball coach Mary Wise learned the full extent of Hampton’s injury Monday evening. By Tuesday, she was already devising a plan to begin the NCAA tournament without the Gators’ top outside hitter.

The 10th-ranked Gators (27-2) begin postseason Thursday evening when they host College of Charleston. When the season started, the goal was the Final Four. The mission has not changed; neither has the approach.

“It’s a different team,” Wise said. “Will we compete any less? No, I don’t think so. Will this team want to win any less? No. Those things are all consistent no matter what collection of players we all put out there.”

Hampton suffered her injury last weekend during a match at Long Beach State. The timing could not have been worse for Wise and the Gators, who will have less than a week to replace one of their best players.

“We have enough talent on this team that we can make up for it,” All-America setter Angie McGinnis said. “It’s not going to be one person’s job.  It’s going to have to be a team effort. We all need to step up our role and get the extra four and a half kills we lost with Marcie and the amazing passing that went out with Marcie. But I think there’s enough talent on the bench that can come in and fill her – somewhat fill – her shoes.”

Hampton, All Southeastern conference last year as a junior, generated an average of 4.49 kills and 3.17 digs a game. She likely will be replaced in the starting lineup by either Lauren Bledsoe or Janine Williams, a high school teammate of Hampton’s at Gainesville P.K. Yonge. Bledsoe is a first-year freshman from Long Beach, Calif., who earned prep All-America honors as a high school senior last year.

“She had two kills in the fifth game against Long Beach that were hit as hard, if not harder, than any ball hit all night,” Wise said. “She, technically, has one of the best arm swings in the gym; what Lauren doesn’t have is Marcie’s experience level.”

Williams has started 11 games and amassed 74 kills this season. She plans to simplify her role.

“Not one person can fill her shoes,” Williams said of Hampton. “I’m going to do the best I can do, play on the court, get kills, whatever to help.”

Neither will be expected to replace Hampton’s production. That will have to be achieved collectively.

“In terms of what Marcie gave us in point production, we’re not going to ask one player to make up for that,” Wise said. “We’re going to ask the entire team, in combined effort, to make up for the loss of Marcie.”

Hampton left the hardwood for good in game three of the Long Beach match, but the Gators battled and almost pulled off the upset but lost 3-2 (26-30, 30-22, 38-36, 20-30, 18-20).

“The team used (Marcie’s absence) as a big-time rallying cry,” Wise said. “There’s been a handful of times maybe where we’ve seen a team fight and compete the way this group did that Saturday night at that level…. There was a different look about them, from the seniors to the freshmen. Those on the floor, those on the bench were determined to win that match. A half an inch, that was the difference in that match, between a ball being in and a ball being out.”