Florida earns NCAA Tournament berth

The No. 15 Florida volleyball team learned its postseason fate on Sunday evening, as the Gators are among the NCAA Tournament field of 64 for the 22nd consecutive season and the 23rd time in program history.

The Gators, who earned the tournament’s 14th seed, begin their title quest on Friday in Gainesville, playing host to Conference USA champion Tulsa at 7:30 p.m. ET in the Stephen C. O’Connell Center. Southern Conference champion College of Charleston and ACC runner-up Miami (FL) will square off in the first match of the day at 5 p.m. ET Friday. The second-round contest will be played Saturday at 7:30 p.m.

This will be the first-ever meeting between Tulsa and Florida, and the Gators have only faced one of the teams in the Gainesville Sub-Regional in program history, having defeated the College of Charleston in the NCAA Tournament in both 2007 and 2009.

“There wasn’t as much drama in this room as perhaps some other places around the country since we won the league. There are a lot of champions playing including three teams that are coming here this weekend,” Florida head coach Mary Wise said. “The anticipation was would we get to host, and with basketball playing on Thursday night there was some question on whether we would get to.”

“But as a top-16 team, the committee has moved the tournament in that direction,” Wise continued. “If you are a top-16 team and you put in a bid, they are awarding teams for their success over the season. I don’t think the players would have any idea of how that works, but they’re just thrilled, as we all are, that we are playing at home.”

The Gators are 56-22 (.718) all-time in the NCAA Championship, including a 55-21 (.724) mark under Wise’s direction. Florida has advanced to NCAA regional action in 20 of Wise’s previous 21 seasons and has reached the national semifinal on seven occasions during that span.

This marks the 20th time in the last 22 years that the Gators have played host to opening-round contests, and Florida is 43-6 when hosting NCAA action in Gainesville. The four participating teams are vying for a berth in the Austin, Texas regional, which will take place Dec. 7-8 at Gregory Gymnasium.

Florida has extended its nation-leading streak to consecutive 25-win seasons to 22, all under Wise. Wise spoke about looking at the NCAA Championship season as a new start.

“We addressed the season back in August as three different seasons: pre-conference season, the two-and-a-half month SEC season and then you get into postseason, where you’ve got 64 teams that are all coming off great seasons. Everyone’s record now is 0-0. You don’t have the familiarity you have in the SEC, so now we start with Tulsa and we’re trying to learn as quickly as we can about them. The one thing we do know, and anyone who follows women’s volleyball knows, is they have the all-time leading scorer in NCAA history in Tyler Henderson, who is a senior now. That’s a pretty tough matchup to have in the first round and I think our fans are in for a treat to see one of the country’s best.”

In the 31-year history of the championship, 10 schools have been crowned champion, eight of which are in this year’s bracket, including defending champion, University of California, Los Angeles.

Past winners making the field are Stanford (1992, 94, 96, 97, 2001, 04), University of Hawaii, Manoa (1982, 83, 87), UCLA (1984, 90, 91, 2011), Nebraska (1995, 2000, and 06), University of Southern California (1981, 2002, 03), Penn State (1999, 2007, 08, 09 and 10), Texas (1988) and University of Washington (2005).

Five SEC teams made the 2012 field, including No. 16 seed Kentucky, as well as Arkansas, Tennessee and Texas A&M. Three additional teams from Florida’s 2012 schedule made the NCAA Tournament field, including the No. 2 overall seed Stanford Cardinal, the third-seeded Texas Longhorns and No. 9 seed Florida State. The Gators are 5-4 against this year’s tournament field.

Teams winning both matches will move on to regional play December 7 and 8. The pre-determined regional sites are Berkeley, California; West Lafayette, Indiana; Omaha, Nebraska; and Austin, Texas. All regional semifinal games will be shown on ESPN3. Regional final games will air on ESPNU.

The regional winners will advance to the semifinals and final hosted by Louisville and the Louisville Sports Commission at the KFC Yum! Center in Louisville, Kentucky, on December 13 and 15. Both national semifinal games as well as the championship game will be broadcast by ESPN2.

Courtesy of UF Communications