If you’ve ever attended a sporting event at the University of Florida, you know that the Gator Nation is rowdy and fired up for every game – and Florida Gators volleyball matches are no exception.
The Stephen C. O’Connell Center, a place dreaded by every visiting team, is one of the most raucous venues in the nation. The atmosphere is one of a kind, with fans in orange and blue crowding the stands and assuring the other team that they will be Gator Bait.
At the beginning of every match, the O’Dome – affectionately referred to by the Florida faithful – is filled with screaming fans that get even noisier when the blaring music, video boards and an animated light show introduce each athlete before the match. During the games, you can hear the crowd chanting, “It’s great to be a Florida Gator.” Between rounds, you’ll see Albert and Alberta getting the crowd even more pumped, the dazzlers dance team and cheerleaders showing their spirit, and the band dancing in their seats as they play songs synonymous with the University of Florida.
[Florida Latest: Gators escape with a home win over Mizzou]
Why do fans get so excited for these games? Why are we always loud and proud?
It’s simple – because our team is awesome. The Florida Gators volleyball team has accomplished many feats, and outsiders rightfully fear their turf. From 1990 to 1994, the team won a then-NCAA record 58 home matches in a row – a record that was later broken by Penn State. Since 1991, the Gators have won nearly 95 percent of their matches at home, and the girls have won the SEC championship title 19 times.
Head coach Mary Wise has been with the team for 21 seasons and has led them to more than 700 victories. According to GatorZone.com, Wise has led the team to 18 consecutive conference titles, which makes her one of only two coaches in conference history, in any sport, to do so.
This year’s squad is currently ranked No. 13 in NCAA Division I, just behind Louisville, Florida State and Minnesota. They have won 19 of their 22 games so far this season. The team just beat SEC-rival Georgia on Friday and will take on Tennessee in the O’Connell Center on Sunday.
It’s time to meet the girls!
16 – Simone Antwi
Simone Antwi is a redshirted freshman from Fairfax Station, VA, majoring in physical therapy. While at South County High School, she played for the Virginia Elite Volleyball Club. Antwi also played for the South County basketball team and made the Honor Roll.
2 – Dana Backlund
Dana Backlund is from Wildomar, California and is currently a freshman at UF. While at Murrieta Valley High School, she played for the Encinitas WAVE club volleyball team.
8 – Taylor Brauneis
Taylor Brauneis is from Crystal Lake, Illinois and recently transferred to UF from Louisville. She is majoring in sport management. At Louisville, Brauneis was selected for the USA National A2 team and won the A2 championship as the starting setter in 2010. As a sophomore, she was named AVCA Honorable Mention All-American. She was the setter for the USA Volleyball A2 team this past summer.
7 – Gabby Mallette
Gabby Mallette is a freshman from Orange Park, FL. Mallette played on the Jacksonville Juniors club volleyball team while attending Bolles High School. She is currently a freshman at UF.
10 – Chloe Mann
Chloe Mann is from right here in Gainesville ,FL, where she attended Eastside High School. As a freshman at UF, Mann was on the SEC Freshman Academic Honor Roll. As a sophomore in 2011, she led the SEC with a .500 attack efficiency and was also on the SEC Fall Academic Honor Roll. She is currently a junior and is majoring in social and behavioral sciences.
11 – Madison Monserez
Madison Monserez is from Orlando, FL and is currently a sophomore studying Public Relations at UF. While attending Bishop Moore High School, Monserez played for the Orlando Volleyball Academy club team. During her freshman year at UF, Monserez proved herself to be a consistent asset to the team while also making the SEC Freshman Academic Honor Roll.
20 – Nikki O’Rourke
Nikki O’Rourke is freshman at UF with a major in business. She played for the Tampa Bay Juniors club volleyball team while attending Clearwater High School in Clearwater, FL.
30 – Holly Pole
Holly Pole is a sophomore at UF with a major in sport management. Pole played for the Gainesville Juniors club team while attending Vanguard High School in Ocala, FL. As a freshman at UF in 2011, she saw action in 60 sets and was on the SEC Fall Academic Honor Roll.
9 – Ziva Recek
Ziva Recek is from Kocevje, Slovenia, and she is currently a freshman at UF. Recek was named the best young female volleyball flayer in Slovenia twice before moving to the US.
17 – Noami Santos-Lamb
Noami Santos-Lamb is currently a sophomore at UF. She went to Carvin High School in Carolina, Puerto Rico before moving to the US. During her freshman season at Florida, Santos-Lamb played 20 sets. She has redshirted her sophomore season because of a torn ACL sustained during preseason.
14 – Betsy Smith
Betsy Smith attended Wesleyan High School in Atlanta, Georgia, before committing to UF. Since she joined the Gator Nation in 2008, Smith has been on the SEC Fall Academic Honor Roll every year, and has been named to the SEC Community Service Team as a sophomore and junior. Last season, she started in 31 matches. Smith is now a senior at UF majoring in business and political science.
6 – Jackie Swalchick
Jackie Swalchick is a freshman at UF. She is from Melbourne, FL, where she played for the Orlando Volleyball Academy club team while attending Holy Trinity Episcopal Academy. While at Holy Trinity, Swalchick earned Highest Honor Roll recognition all eight semesters of high school.
5 – Taylor Unroe
Taylor Unroe is a sophomore from Muncie, IN, where she attended Burris High School and played for the Munciana club volleyball team. She used a medical redshirt for her freshman season at UF due to a broken bone in her ankle. After surgery and recovery, Unroe saw action in every set in 2011, and she was on the SEC Academic Honor Roll. She is now a sophomore majoring in social and behavioral sciences.
13 – Sundai Weston
Sundai Weston is currently a senior at UF and is majoring in social and behavioral sciences. Weston is from Naples, FL, where she attended Gulf Coast High School and played for the USA South club volleyball team. She has been on the Honor Roll every year since coming to UF.
1 – Berkley Whaley
Berkley Whaley is freshman at UF. She played for the Pinellas Heat club volleyball team while attending Lakewood High School in St. Petersburg, FL.
4 – Tangerine Wiggs
Tangerine Wiggs is a senior at UF with a major in social and behavioral sciences. She attended high school at Holy Names Academy in Seattle, Washington while playing for the Island Thunder club volleyball team. Wiggs attended Washington State University, and after two years she transferred to UF where she played in 31 matches as a sophomore and in every set as a junior. Wiggs was also on the SEC Academic Honor Roll during her junior year.
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