‘Quirky’ Brauneis ready to help Gators

Mary Wise has been architect to one of the nation’s premiere volleyball programs for more than two decades.

Since taking the coaching job at Florida, she has sported a 659-75 record in 21 seasons. Ho hum, just a winning percentage of .898.

As she enters her 22nd year as coach of the Gators, however, she will be rebuilding the program, starting with the foundation.

For the last decade, her Gators teams have found success using a 6-2 rotation. Without getting into too many details, the 6-2 has a player come forward to set, while the three in front are in attacking positions.

This season, the team will be employing the use of a 5-1 rotation. The 5-1 differentiates from the 6-2 in that there is one setter, not two, who sets regardless of rotations.

Making a fundamental schematic change can be a difficult process. However, Wise has a new tool in the form of junior Taylor Brauneis.

After spending her first two collegiate seasons playing at Louisville, a program that employs the 5-1, Brauneis transferred to Florida in January.

Having her as part of the team has helped smoothen the transition for the Gators.

“All of my volleyball career, I’ve ran the 5-1,” Brauneis said Thursday at UF’s volleyball media day. “So I’m pretty good enough at it and know what offense they want to run.”

The 5-foot-10 setter is a solid addition for the Gators. Coming out of Prairie Ridge (Ill.), The Chicago Sun Times nominated her as one of the top 50 players the last three years.

She broke the Prairie Ridge school record for setting percentage (99.9 percent) during her junior season, while also setting the school record for kill blocks (128).

Her success landed her at Louisville, where she was named to the All-Big East Second Team as a freshman.

Despite her individual success, things weren’t clicking at Louisville like she had hoped, so last December, she decided to pursue transferring.

Brauneis said she was contacted by multiple teams but wanted to go to a program with a winning atmosphere. Immediately, she gravitated toward Wise and the Gators.

“Honestly, it was two or three weeks where I just had to buckle down and see where I wanted to go,” she said. “The biggest thing for me is being in the Top 25. I want to win a national championship. I think I can do that here.”

She arrived at Florida in January and began working with the team. Initially, she admitted the adjustment process both for her moving to a new program and for the team moving to the 5-1 was slow.

However, as Florida prepares to open its season against Florida International on Aug. 24, both Brauneis and the team are clicking on all cylinders.

“Coaches always wish they had more time,” Wise said. “But we’ll be ready on Friday night.”

Joining Brauneis on the floor will be Chloe Mann, the team’s only preseason All-SEC selection. Mann has developed into one of the elite players in the nation since coming to Florida.

This year, she will have to deal with the pressure of leading the Gators, while also dealing with a new roommate — Brauneis.

For Mann, who spoke confidently and with a sense of determination, neither of the two appears to be an issue.

“When she came on her visit, we all immediately fell in love with Taylor,” Mann said.

She admitted not knowing much about Brauneis before her decision to join the Gators other than her participation with the USA National A2 team.

However, that is quickly changing.

“She’s my roommate, so I’m starting to learn about her every day,” she said with a big grin. “She’s definitely quirky, and I love that because we goof off together in the dorms.”

Asked what teammates could be referring to when they classify her as quirky, Brauneis had to fight to hold back her laughter.

“Let’s just say that I got my quirkiness from my mom,” she said. “I’ve heard that we have the same attitude. Big mouths pretty much.”

While off the court she is capable of keeping things loose with her quick wit and propensity to be random around her teammates, on the court she is as focused as they come.

“She plays with so much game,” Wise said. “There are going to be taller setters and different setters with different physical attributes she might not have, but in terms of having game, she brings that and has a lot of it.”

The Gators will need her game. Every ounce of it.

With the departure of two All-Americans in Kelly Murphy and Kristy Jaeckel, the team needs contributions from every spot on the court.

For Brauneis, she knows the types of players she will be helping replace but also is confident in what lies ahead.

“Kelly Muphy, Kristy Jaeckel, I look up to all of them,” she said. “As far as being an All-American, I want to be an All-American.”