Gators Set to Begin NCAAs as Top Seed

The Gators have been in the NCAA Tournament for 20 straight seasons, but this one is different. The program has been seen as one of the elite in the country since Mary Wise took over in 1991. However, this year they earned the first overall No. 1 seed in the history of the program.

"I think it's a reflection of all the hard work we've put in throughout the season," senior Kristy Jaeckel said. "I don't think we're really feeling the pressure, but we understand that it's a great recognition. Obviously it's not how you start the tournament, it's how you finish, so we're taking it one weekend at a time right now."

Hosting on the opening weekend of the NCAA Tournament is nothing new. The Gators (27-1, 20-0 SEC) have done that in 19 of the last 20 years. This year, they've done it after the program's first perfect record in conference play since 2003.

It wouldn't have been possible without 2010 SEC Player of the Year Kelly Murphy. Her versatility makes her one of the best players in the country.

Murphy is the only person to rank in the top ten of the SEC in hitting percentage, service aces per set and kills per set.

"If Kelly were just setting or just hitting, either one of those, she would be an All-American just by doing those skills separately," Wise said. "But combining all that we ask of her, whether it's at crunch time to get us a side out, or when she goes back to serve, we can make a run on her serving. So any of those, whether it's setting or hitting alone would be enough. It's the combination."

Being versatile makes it tough for some to remain consistent in different areas of their game. For Murphy, it doesn't change a thing.

The inconsistencies of young players on the team can affect each match, but Wise knows what she will get out of Murphy every day.

"She's really been the constant for our team, and where she might not have improved at the level of what some of the players around her have, we know every night what we're going to get from Kelly, and that is an All-American level," Wise said. "So where some of our younger players have nights where they're not as on, she's been the constant. I thinks it's a great confidence boost for all of us."

The Gators will open the NCAA Tournament Friday night at 7:30 against South Carolina State. The winner of Florida State and Georgia State's Friday match will face the winner of the Florida-South Carolina State match on Saturday night at 7:30. The winner of Saturday night will advance to the Austin, Texas Regional next weekend.

South Carolina State (17-22, 6-2 MEAC) is making its first NCAA Tournament appearance. They won the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference. Their season got off to a slow start, but they ended the year winning nine of their last 11 matches.

"An athletic team not really big in size, but they get after it. Their conference Player of the Year is a big jumping player who will remind us of Arkansas' great outside hitter, so there are some similarities that we've tried to equate for the players, and I hope that our size and our serving will give us an advantage."
Follow Cody Jones on

Fightin Gators Top Stories