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New look, lineup for the Gators

With key starters gone to graduation, it may be tough for Florida to continue its perennial success.

By JOANNE KORTH

© St. Petersburg Times, published August 25, 2000


GAINESVILLE -- There are a variety of polite terms commonly used to describe seasons such as the one Florida's volleyball team is expected to have. Words like rebuilding and transition.

Words the Gators do not like.

In light of their record the past decade, nine NCAA region appearances, five Final Four berths and nine Southeastern Conference titles, the Gators prefer to think of themselves as reloading. But even coach Mary Wise isn't entirely convinced.

Transition?

Rebuilding?

"Well," she said. "I'm not sure that's not legitimate."

The Gators lost three key seniors from last year's team, which lost in the NCAA East Region final and held the No. 5 ranking in the final USA Today/American Volleyball Coaches Association poll. The "three Jens" -- All-America hitter Jenny Manz, All-America setter Jen Sanchez and All-SEC blocker Jenny Whitehead -- were pivotal players.

The transition has been made even more difficult by the slow recovery of senior middle blocker Heather Wright from rotator cuff surgery. Wright, a three-year starter, is the NCAA's career hitting leader at .424 percent.

"Heather is the type of player who can totally dominate a match," Wise said. "We don't have anybody with her experience. We are young; we are inexperienced; but we are very athletic and awfully competitive."

Will that be enough? Florida will get a good idea this weekend, when it serves as host to one of the nation's most prestigious events, the Volleyball Classic presented by the National Association for Women's Athletic Administrators. Those in the know call it the NACWAA (pronounced NACK-wa).

"Other than the NCAA Tournament, the NACWAA is the premier event in women's volleyball," Wise said. "It's an honor to be asked to play, and to host."

In today's first-round matches at the O'Connell Center, No. 1 UCLA plays No. 2 and defending national champion Penn State at 5 p.m., and No. 9 Florida plays No. 13 Colorado State at 7 p.m. On Saturday, the third-place match is at 5 p.m.; championship at 7.

"We'll learn a lot about our team," said Wright, who has limited herself in the preseason but expects to play today. "We'll know exactly what we have to work on."

Aside from having a new lineup this season, the Gators also will have a new look. More athletic than in the past, UF will rely on quickness and leaping ability while young players hone their skills. Expected to make early impacts are redshirt freshman hitter Benavia Jenkins and freshman middle blocker Jacque Robinson, whose father is former NFL player Jerry Robinson.

"We're going to be a new team, but a good team," said Bova, who takes over at setter after two seasons as a gritty defensive specialist. "We have players with experience. It's not like I'll be stepping on the court for the first time. It's just that I get to play the front row. My time has come, and I'm ready to take on the responsibility."

Teammates say Bova's boundless energy and refuse-to-lose attitude will inspire, as it did last season when she was digging 90 mph kills in the back row.

"Kris played a great role in defensive specialist," said senior Jerilyn Hattendorf, a third-year starter at outside hitter. "She's a very aggressive setter and has a winning attitude and works to get the job done, no matter how she has to do it."

Sort of like the Gators.

"Every year they try to say that we're rebuilding, and every year we come out and prove them wrong," Wright said. "They don't know the people who weren't playing because of those seniors were on the bench waiting for their time. Every year, somebody new steps up, and that's going to happen this year."

Florida

1999: 33-0, 14-0 SEC (regular-season and tournament champion).

COACH: Mary Wise (304-31; 385-94, 14th overall).

KEY RETURNING PLAYERS: Heather Wright, Sr., 1MB (.451 hitting percentage); Jerilyn Hattendorf, Sr., OH (2.13 kills per game); Nicole McCray, So., MB (2.38 kills, 1.17 blocks); Niki Hartley, Jr., OH (2.13 digs); Kris Bova, Jr., S (2.63 digs); Benavia Jenkins, Fr., MB.

KEY NEWCOMERS: Jen Mandes, Fr., DS (Carolina, Puerto Rico); Jacque Robinson, Fr., MB/OH (Golden Valley High, Merced, Calif.).

NOTES: Ranked No. 9 in the USA Today/American Volleyball Coaches Association preseason poll, the Gators will find out in a hurry just how much work they have to do to replace three key seniors from last season. Florida is host today and Saturday to the prestigious Volleyball Classic, a four-team event featuring No. 1 UCLA, No. 2 Penn State and No. 13 Colorado State. The losses from last season's NCAA East Region runner-up squad were All-America hitter Jenny Manz, setter Jen Sanchez and blocker Jenny Whitehead. Bova, a defensive specialist the past two season, takes over at setter. But the season truly hinges on the hitting shoulder of Wright, whose recovery from rotator cuff surgery has been slow. The Gators will be more athletic this season with leapers McCray and Jenkins on the floor. Florida also will serve as host to the SEC tournament, which it has won seven of the past eight seasons.

- Compiled by Joanne Korth.

Schedule

TODAY: vs. Colorado State (State Farm-NACWAA Classic), 7.

SEPTEMBER: 1: vs. UNLV, 2 and Ball State (Suntrust Invitational), 7:30; 2: vs. Wisconsin (Suntrust Invitational), 3:30; 8: vs. George Washington (Cal tournament), 8; 15: vs. Florida Atlantic (UF Hotel and Conference Invitational), 7; 22: Alabama, 7; 24: Auburn, 2; 26: at Florida State, 7; 29: at Mississippi State, 8.

OCTOBER: 1: at Mississippi, 2; 4: North Carolina, 7; 8: South Carolina, 2; 13: at Kentucky, 7; 15: at Tennessee, 1; 20: LSU, 7; 22: Arkansas, 1:30; 27: Tennessee, 7; 29: Kentucky, 2.

NOVEMBER: 3: Georgia, 7; 5: at Georgia, 2; 7: at Arizona, 9; 12: at South Carolina, 2; 17-19: SEC tournament; 24: vs. Cincinnati (Florida Conference Challenge), 2; 25: vs. Tulane (Florida Conference Challenge), 2; 30-Dec. 3: NCAA first and second rounds.

DECEMBER: 7-10: NCAA regions; 14-16: NCAA semifinals and final.

Florida State

1999: 8-23, 1-15 ACC (ninth).

COACH: Cecile Reynaud (597-303, 25th season).

KEY RETURNING PLAYERS: Jennifer Werrick, Sr., OH (311 kills, 224 digs); Norisha Campbell, Jr., MH (298 kills, 83 blocks); Erica Bunch, So., OH (244 kills, 198 digs); Kristin Frye, So., MH/OH (62 kills, 77 digs); Jamie Hibbard, So., S (1,125 assists, 253 digs).

KEY NEWCOMERS: Jennifer Anderson, Fr., S (Olympia High, Minier, Ill.); Cerina Pele, Fr., MH/OH (Bishop Montgomery High, Gardenia, Calif.); Marie Persson, Jr., MH/OH (Charles County C.C., La Plata, Md.).

NOTES: Last season, Reynaud had to rebuild after losing five senior starters. The construction moved along as could be expected: painfully slow. It didn't help FSU also had to overcome a series of injuries. The Seminoles had their worst season and finish in the perennially strong ACC. This season, it's the opposite with five starters, led by Werrick, the lone senior, and 10 letter-winners. A key, however, figures to rest with newcomer Anderson. "She's come in with a great deal of experience, is very athletic and very quick," Reynaud said. "She's done an excellent job of giving our players something to swing at." Last season, FSU's attack percentage was .189, the third worst in program history. Not all of that was the fault of Hibbard, whose assist total ranks eighth for a single season. Another plus for FSU is it had the opportunity to take a European trip in the off-season, allowing an extra week of training and extra competition. Said Reynaud: "I think that's going to make a big difference."

- Compiled by Brian Landman.

Schedule

SEPTEMBER: 1: Southern Miss, noon and Florida Atlantic (Florida State tournament), 7; 2: Charleston Southern, noon and Illinois (Florida State tournament), 7; 4: Alabama, 7; 8: vs. Southern Missouri State (Ball State tournament), 6; 9: vs. Texas El Paso (Ball State tournament), 1; 13: Jacksonville, 7; 15: Samford (Seminole Classic), 2; 15: Notre Dame (Seminole Classic), 7:30; 16: Florida A&M (Seminole Classic), 1:30; 19: Central Florida, 7; 22: at Maryland, 5; 23: at Virginia, 3; 26: Florida, 7; 29: N.C. State, 7

OCTOBER: 1: North Carolina, 1; 6: at Wake Forest, 7; 7: at Duke, 7; 11: Florida A&M, 7; 13: Georgia Tech, 7; 15: Clemson, 1; 20: at North Carolina, 7; 21: at N.C. State, 5; 27: Virginia, 7; 29: Maryland, 1.

NOVEMBER: 3: Wake Forest, 7; 5: Duke, 1; 10: at Georgia Tech, 7; 11: at Clemson, 6; 16-19: ACC tournament, TBA; 30-Dec. 3: NCAA first and second rounds.

DECEMBER: 7-10: NCAA regions; 14-16: NCAA semifinals and final

South Florida

1999 RECORD: 15-18, 7-10 C-USA (eighth).

COACH: Nancy Mueller (15-18, second season).

KEY RETURNING PLAYERS: Rachelle Paul, Sr., MB (398 kills, 21 aces, 404 digs); Michelle Collier, Jr., OH; Maryann Mooney, So., OH; Kelly Mathiasmeier, Jr., S. (127 kills, 304 digs, 711 assists); Crissy Bush, Jr., MB (294 kills, 270 digs).

KEY NEWCOMERS: Bonnye Glover, Fr., MB (Lakeland Lake Gibson High); Tally Payne, Fr., OH. (Gaither High); Jenny Scholle, Fr., OH (St. Charles (Ill.) High); Lindsay Guidish, Fr. (St. Charles (Ill.) High).

NOTES: With some top-level newcomers and a strong core of veterans, Mueller is excited about the team's chance for success. With more players than ever (13), Mueller is setting up practice to challenge the players at a higher level, which she hopes will translate to better play when competition begins.

- Compiled by Antonya English.

Schedule

SATURDAY: USF Alumnae (exhibition), 7.

SEPTEMBER: 1: vs. Furman (South Florida Classic), 7; 2: vs. Boston College, 11 a.m. and vs. Wisconsin-Milwaukee (South Florida Classic), 6; 8: vs. Akron (Big Orange Bash), 5; 9: vs. Davidson, noon and vs. Clemson (Big Orange Bash), 7; 15: vs. Rice (Wisconsin tournament), 5; 16: vs. Wisconsin, noon and vs. Dayton (Wisconsin tournament), 5; 19: Houston, 7; 22: Tulane, 7; 24: Southern Mississippi, 2; 29: at Saint Louis, 7.

OCTOBER: 1: at Charlotte, 2; 6: at Memphis, 7; 7: at UAB, 7; 13: DePaul, 7; 15: at Marquette, 2; 21: at Houston, 7:30; 27: UAB, 7; 28: Jacksonville, 7; 29: Memphis, 2; 31: at UCF, 7.

NOVEMBER: 3: at Southern Miss, 7; 4: at Tulane, 7; 7: at Florida Atlantic, 7; 10: Louisville, 7; 12: Cincinnati, 2; 15-19: C-USA championship; 22: at Auburn, 7; 30-Dec. 3: NCAA first and second rounds

DECEMBER: 7-10: NCAA regions; 14-16: NCAA semifinals and final.

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