By: Sean Cartell
SEC Digital Network
GAINESVILLE, Fla. – Florida head volleyball coach Mary Wise has led her team to 22 consecutive NCAA Tournament appearances and the Gators (25-4) will begin NCAA play on Friday by playing host to Tulsa at 7:30 p.m. ET.
Wise sat down with the SEC Digital Network on Sunday to discuss her thoughts on her team and its NCAA Tournament draw.
SEC Digital Network: What are your overall thoughts on your team’s NCAA Tournament draw?
Mary Wise: “Based on our RPI, we were hoping that we would be a top-16 seed because the stakes are so high now. If you are a top-16 seed and put in a bid, you get to host. But there are no guarantees when the bracket comes out. Because of the parity in women’s volleyball, I wouldn’t want to be doing the seeding; it has got to be an incredible challenge with all of the great players and all of the great teams. To be a top-16 seed and get to host, we were holding our breath until we saw it.”
SEC Digital Network: You face Tulsa in the opening round Friday; what do you know about the Golden Hurricane?
Mary Wise: “We do know that they have one of the best hitters in NCAA history in Tyler Henderson, who is now in her senior year. We have not played Tulsa during her career, but I’ve seen her play on TV and she is a pretty special player. Our fans are going to have the opportunity to see one of the country’s best players in the first round of the tournament.”
SEC Digital Network: How much does it help for your team to be hosting the opening two rounds at home, an opportunity you weren’t afforded last season?
Mary Wise: “Especially because we just came off the road at the end of the SEC season, this just gives our players a chance to breathe before the tournament starts. Hosting and playing at home is no guarantee, but it just means that the energy is spent on match preparation and not on all that traveling involves. Obviously, it is a great opportunity for us to play in front of these fans again.”
SEC Digital Network: What is your overview of a pretty special season by your team, one in which external expectations might not have been as high as they have been in the past?
Mary Wise: “It’s been one of the most special groups I’ve ever been around and one of the most special seasons. We knew that it was going to be a rebuilding year because of the graduation of the talented senior class of 2011. What we didn’t know was that we were going to lose Noami Santos-Lamb right before the season started. She was our only returning outside hitter, our leading point scorer and she was positioned for a great sophomore season. When her injury happened, I remember exactly where in the O’Connell Center that we were standing as a staff. Even before her MRI, we knew that she wasn’t going to be back this season. My comment was that if we can get into the NCAA Tournament, it will be a remarkable season. Whatever is greater than remarkable is what we have accomplished this season.”
SEC Digital Network: The SEC placed five teams in the NCAA Tournament this season. In its first season with 13 teams, how strong was SEC volleyball in 2012?
Mary Wise: “We were asked multiple times what the addition of Missouri and Texas A&M would do for the sport of volleyball. It was an easy answer – those two programs have made our league better. Now with five teams in the tournament what our hope is now is that each of the teams become each other’s greatest fans. In the volleyball world, much of your league’s reputation depends on how far teams advance. We are cheering from afar for Arkansas, Kentucky, Tennessee and Texas A&M to advance as far as possible over the next few weekends.”