No. 9 UF hopes to serve No. 25 FSU first defeat

In Monday’s press conference, University of Florida head volleyball coach Mary Wise was asked about her team’s performance in a 3-0 win (25-17, 25-20, 25-14) over North Carolina.

“North Carolina played well,” she said. “Steamed rallies, pushed us, great preparation going onto the next step, Florida State.”

Florida State.

The team that was last in the Stephen C. O’Connell Center less than a year ago giving the Gators all they could handle in an exhilarating 5-set match.

Tonight the rivalry continues, as the ninth-ranked Gators will play host at 7 p.m. to the 25th-ranked Seminoles.

If this match proves to be similar to their last meeting in the O’Dome, be prepared for a thriller.

It was in the second round of last year’s NCAA Tournament where they battled, leaving it all out on the court. UF, then ranked as the No. 1 team in the nation, somehow bounced back from 12-7 deficit in the fifth-set to pull out a 20-25, 25-22, 22-25, 25-21, 17-15 win and end FSU’s season.

Neither the Gators (2-0) nor the Seminoles (3-0) have lost a game yet this season.

The Gators swept both Boston College and North Carolina in straight sets, claiming the Active Ankle SEC/ACC Challenge.

Meanwhile, the ‘Noles won matches over Kentucky, Albany and No. 23 Tulsa, losing just one set on the way to claiming the title at the FSU Invitational in Tallahassee.

After the North Carolina match, Mary Wise said, “We talked about how it was a good start, but we got to play at a higher level to play with Florida State.”

“A legit top 15 team,” she added. “As good as they were a year ago, they’re just a year older. I believe 10 of their players are juniors and seniors with a wealth of experience, very talented.”

Wise credits the veteran Seminoles’ offense and personnel, making sure her team is aware of their strengths.

“They run a similar offense as us in terms of a 6/2 offense but they’re very diverse,” she said. “They run a lot of combination plays so every routine, they’re coming at you with crossing patterns. Part of it is the offense they run, part of it is the personnel. They got players who can kill balls, different tempos from antenna to antenna. They’re talented, have a really high volleyball IQ and are experienced; international players will bring that. As good as they were a year ago, new personnel makes them more dangerous this year.”

The Gators are led by senior outside hitter Stephanie Ferrell, the MVP of the Active Ankle SEC/ACC Challenge along with All-Americans Kelly Murphy and Kristy Jaeckel. Redshirt freshman libero Taylor Unroe has also been recognized for her outstanding plays these past games.

“[Unroe] is only two matches into her career, so there is a lot of great future ahead of her,” Wise said. “Her game will continue to get better in terms of her serving, secondary setting and defense, but for her as a freshman, the way she started is really exciting.”

FSU is led by Jekaterina Stepanova, the MVP of the FSU Invitational and senior outside hitters Rachael Morgan and Visnja Djurdjevic, who were preseason All-ACC selections. They are three of seven international players for Florida State.

Wise acknowledges that the Seminoles will be a great competitor for the Gators, but it’s also early in the season.

“This will be a huge challenge,” she said, “but we also know that this is just a match in early September to help get us ready for the SEC conference play.”