Gators sweep in-state rivals

The 2012 Florida Gators volleyball team opened their season against various opponents from within the state of Florida, hosting the Campus USA Credit Union Invitational.

The team’s final match came tonight against Florida Gulf Coast, and Urban Meyer’s daughter, Gigi.

After losing four All-Americans to graduation, the team’s freshmen and returning starters provided a great mix of savvy and athleticism that will hopefully carry over to the rest of the season.

Led by the stellar play of a few experienced upperclassmen and a slew of talented diaper dandies, the No. 18 Gators looked cool, confident, and right at home in dispatching of Florida Gulf Coast on Saturday night. Florida won its third straight match to open the season without losing a set, 25-16, 25-19, and 25-16.

There was another player feeling pretty comfortable in Gainesville as well, however. Former football head coach Urban Meyer’s daughter, Gigi, is a defensive specialist for FGCU, and chants of her name echoed throughout the O’Dome on and off throughout the match.

However, the chants of “Gigi” were never as loud as the celebratory screams heard every time junior Chloe Mann smashed ball after ball onto floor.

Mann absolutely crushed the very first ball set her way by setter Taylor Brauneis to take a 1-0 lead, and from there everyone in the building knew who the headliner was going to be. It sure wasn’t Gigi, despite her efforts.

Brauneis, a junior transfer from Louisville, impressed as well. She finished with a whopping 37 assists, compared to 22 for all of FGCU.

For all of Brauneis’ efforts, the star of the show was Mann from start to finish, and Taylor knew it: “Every time I got a good pass, I thinking middles, middles, middles. They put the ball down for me.”

Betsy Smith, the senior middle hitter who happened to be Mann’s main competition last season, was also impressed with her teammate’s strong work.

“Chloe and I have a really good relationship because we both trained as middles and last year we both kind of were fighting for the same spot and we both got better because we held each other accountable. So, it’s been awesome to see her progress, she’s amazing, she’s awesome. She’s really hard to stop right now and it’s awesome to see that progression.”

Mann, the Campus USA Credit Union Tournament MVP, finished out the match with 16 kills on 30 total attempts, good for a .433 kill percentage. To put that hit rate into perspective, the entire Gulf Coast team finished with a mere 11 kills on 37 attempts. Get out those calculators. That’s a .135 kill percentage. Ouch.

Of course, Mann was not the only woman to get in on the fun. Ziva Recek was another regular recipient of Brauneis’ well-placed sets. Recek, straight outta Slovenia, had 12 kills herself, and another senior, Tangerine Wiggs, came up big when the team needed it most.

Despite all the talent on the roster, a lot of that comes in the form of 18-year olds that have never played at this level. Having someone like Wiggs, who tonight came off the bench of killed five balls out of six attempts, including a clean four-for-four in the third set, is going to be huge moving forward.

Head coach Mary Wise agreed, “The best teams in the country moving forward are going to be senior-dominated…good seniors, and that’s where we were a year ago, but graduation’s part of it too…I think this team will compete, and some nights we’ll be good enough and some nights we won’t. The key is, we’re just going to keep getting better, and I think this group has a chance to do that.”

Thus far, the team, with its mix of veteran savvy, youthful vigor, and overall athleticism, has won three matches, and all in dominating fashion. The rest of the season will not be won so easily, but this team will at least get better every time out on the floor.