2012 Nike Big Four Classic – Florida Fanalysis

                                                                          Photo courtesy of GoPSUsports.com

Nike Big Four Volleyball Classic Comes to Rec Hall

 This is the first of four “Fanalyses” for the Nike Big Four Volleyball Classic, which will take place on August 31, 2012 and September 1, 2012 in Rec Hall, State College, PA.  Our first Fanalysis is by Thrill of the ‘ville, a Florida fan who is a long-time follower of the Gators.   

Nike Rewind: 2010 and 2011 

This is the third of four scheduled editions of the Nike Big Four Volleyball Classic.  The tournament features Florida, Penn State, Stanford and Texas – four of the premier women’s volleyball programs in the country.  The inaugural tournament, in 2010, was hosted by the University of Florida in Gainesville Florida.  The 2011 the tournament was hosted by Stanford.

In the first two years, Penn State hasn’t exactly set the tournament on fire.  In 2010, a young Nittany Lion squad defeated the Gators 3-1 (20-25, 25-21, 25-14, 25-23), but followed that with a loss to Stanford in straight sets (28-26, 25-12, 25-18), ending the Nittany Lion’s 109 match win streak in the process.

In 2011, Stanford defeated Penn State 3-1 (23-25, 25-19, 27-25, 25-18).  The following night, the Nittany Lions rallied from an 0-2 deficit against Texas to force a fifth set, but Texas held on for a 3-2 victory (25-23, 25-20, 19-25, 14-25, 15-10). It was the Longhorns’ first victory by Texas against Penn State since September, 1989.  

To date, Stanford is 4-0 in the tournment, followed by Florida at 2-2, with Penn State and Texas both at 1-3.

This Year’s Matches 


2012 Nike Big Four Volleyball Classic

Date (Time)OpponentSiteMedia
8-31-12 Nike Volleyball Big Four Classic
(4:00 p.m. ET)
Texas vs. FloridaUniversity Park, PA (Rec Hall)
8-31-12 Nike Volleyball Big Four Classic
(7:00 p.m. ET)
StanfordUniversity Park, PA (Rec Hall)BTN and BTN2Go - Live
9-1-12 Nike Volleyball Big Four Classic
(4:00 p.m. ET)
Florida vs. StanfordUniversity Park, PA (Rec Hall)
9-1-12 Nike Volleyball Big Four Classic
(7:00 p.m. ET)
Texas University Park, PA (Rec Hall)

Florida Snapshot

2011 Record:

27-6 (Elite Eight in NCAA tournament); #11 in final AVCA poll

About the Coach:

Florida Head Coach Mary Wise is 659-75 (.898) in 21 seasons with the Gators. 

Pre-Season Polls:

#3 in SEC preseason coaches’ poll; #18 in AVCA Coaches’ preseason poll

Florida Roster - 2012

1Whaley, BerkleyOHFr.6-0St. PetersburgFlorida
2Backlund, DanaS/OHFr.5-10WildomarCalifornia
4Wiggs, TangerineRSSr.6-4SeattleWashington
5Unroe, TaylorDSSo.5-7MuncieIndiana
6Swalchick, JackieOHFr.5-10MelbourneFlorida
7Mallette, GabbyOHFr.6-2Orange ParkFlorida
8Brauneis, TaylorSJr.5-10Crystal LakeIllinois
9Recek, Živa OHFr.6-0Kočevje Slovenia
10Mann, ChloeMBJr.6-2GainesvilleFlorida
11Monserez, MadisonDSSo.5-6OrlandoFlorida
13Weston, SundaiSSr.5-6NaplesFlorida
14Smith, BetsyMBSr.6-2AtlantaGeorgia
16Antwi, SimoneMBRS Fr.6-2LortonVirginia
17Santos-Lamb, NaomiOHSo.5-11Carolina Puerto Rico
20O'Rourke, NikkiDSFr.5-6ClearwaterFlorida
30Pole, HollyDSSo.5-7OcalaFlorida

Florida Fanalysis


DigNittany: In the SEC preseason coaches’ poll, Florida is picked third. The AVCA Coaches’ Preseason Poll (August 13th) has the Gators ranked 18th.  Florida returns four starters from 2011 — All-SEC selections 5-7 So. DS Taylor Unroe and 6-4 Sr. RS Tangerine Wiggs,  and middle blockers 6-2 Jr. Chloe Mann and 6-2 Sr. Betsy Smith (a total of eight returning players, plus Louisville transfer 5-10 Jr. S Taylor Brauneis, and 6-2 RS Fr. MB Simone Antwi). Do you think these pre-season rankings are too high, too low, or just about right?

Thrill of the ‘ville: I think both the AVCA and SEC polls are very fair to Florida.  The Gators no doubt return some quality players who have proven themselves as valuable parts of the team, but they also lose some great players who were able to put the team on their backs when under pressure.  Besides not having its star power, Florida’s 2012 roster doesn’t have a single athlete who has ever played setter for the orange and blue nor an OH with vast experience (Santos-Lamb has only played limited rotations in 20 sets) which shows there are many holes to fill.

Underdog Gators?

DigNittany: Florida is coming off a 2011 season that certainly had its share of high points: a 27-6 record and a #11 ranking in the final AVCA poll, the Gator’s first Elite Eight appearance since 2005, and a .309 team attack percentage (which ranked first in the NCAA).  But its 3-1 loss to #3-ranked Illinois (22-25, 25-23, 14-25, 20-25) was a disappointment, even though the Gators were unseeded and a win would have been a major upset.

Losses can be dispiriting or can motivate teams, or have no impact whatsoever. Do you think the Illinois loss will affect the 2012 Gators, and if so, how?

Thrill of the ‘ville: That is a very accurate description of how the underdog that was Florida felt about the outcome of last season. There were high hopes for the 2011 Gators since the signings of Murphy and Ward way back when and although there were bumps along the way, such as the #1 Gators taking it on the chin the prior year and the two previously mentioned stars being across the net from one another, those high hopes never died in Gainesville.

That iteration of the team understood there would be a big drop-off in 2012 and that it was their last chance to accomplish the championship goal they set for themselves four years earlier, so they left everything they had out on that court. Although they didn’t reach their goal, they at least made it to the Elite 8 for their first time in their careers and that was satisfactory for most of them who understood that would be a challenge this upcoming season.

Another reason that loss will not impact this team is because there are a lot of fresh faces due to a large incoming class and a transfer who weren’t a part of the whirlwind that was Florida volleyball the previous four years.

On Jr. MB Chloe Mann

DigNittany: 6-2 Jr. MB Chloe Mann has been named to the Preseason All-SEC team. She started 14 matches in 2011, her .500 season attack percentage set a new Florida record, and she totaled 67 blocks for the season.  What are your thoughts on Chloe, and what should we be looking for from her in the Nike Big Four Tournament?

Thrill of the ‘ville: First, I would just like to state how pleased Gators fans were with not only those stats, but by the person they were attributed to.  Like most sports fans, the people of Gainesville love to root for homegrown talent, but more importantly, they like to brag about the quality of the person…and Chloe makes that very easy to do.

When Chloe signed with Florida a few years ago, I was working at the local elementary school she once attended.  When I walked in one morning, the secretary quickly took me over to a plaque on the wall for an academic award and proudly pointed out Chloe’s name and told me endless stories about the heart, humility, and dedication she possessed.  And what Chloe made of her playing time last year reflects those characteristics as she trained hard and took advantage of any opportunity to be on the court that she earned. 

I think that people attending or watching the Nike Big Four Tournament should be looking to see her continue to take advantage of her expanded role and court time as she has what it takes to become the focal point of this team.

On Kelly Murphy and Kristy Jaeckel

DigNittany: Florida lost two exceptional seniors to graduation: Kelly Murphy and Kristy Jaeckel.  Both were 2011 Volleyball Magazine NCAA Division I Women’s All-Americans (First team and Third team, respectively).

Murphy, who was a 2011 AVCA First Team All-America, led Florida with 693 assists on the year, and finished fifth in the SEC in service aces (38, .32/set) and hitting percentage (.330).  And she was durable — starting every match and set of her career.

Jaeckel was the 2011 Capital One Academic All-America of the Year and was a 2011 AVCA Second Team All-America, having led Florida in kills, points and service aces for the season.

How much will Florida miss these two players, and who needs to step up this season?

Thrill of the ‘ville: There are no words to describe how much Florida will miss such exceptional athletes as Murphy and Jaeckel. This was the hardest senior class for the Gators to say goodbye to since the outstanding 2003 runner-up team that featured 5-11 OH Aury Cruz and 6-0 MB Benavia Jenkins.  With the departure of Murphy and Jaeckel, and the transfer of Chanel Brown, Florida has some serious holes that need to be filled. There are many fresh faces this year, which means Florida really needs leaders. That is why I think 6-2 Sr. MB Betsy Smith and 5-10 Jr. S Taylor Brauneis have to step up this season.

As the oldest player on the squad, Smith has experienced every up and down this program has been through over the last four years.  She was there when Florida’s consecutive SEC title streak came to a halt, when Ward transferred, when they got humiliated as a #1 seed, and so on but she was also there when they finally returned to the Elite 8.  She understands how important it is to stay positive during rough patches and her upbeat personality can be a great glue to keep this team together.

Brauneis also needs to step up because of her role as the setter and “quarterback” of the team.  Although she may not be Kelly Murphy, her prior college experience will help begin to fill the returning setter void on the roster, and Betsy’s mentoring will help prepare her to be the future team leader.

On Florida’s 2012 Recruits

DigNittany: Recruiting is (cliché alert) the lifeblood of any program, so tell us about the incoming class for Florida. In addition to Taylor Brauneis, Florida is adding 5-10 Fr. S Dana Backlund, 6-2 Fr. OH Gabby Mallette, 6-1 Fr. OH Berkley Whaley, 6-0 OH Živa Recek, 5-6 DS Nikki O’Rourke, 5-11 OH Jackie Swalchick, and 6-2 RS Fr. MB Simone Antwi. Do you see any of these new players as immediate contributors, and what should fans expect from them in the Nike Big Four Tournament?

Thrill of the ‘ville: The thing that sticks out with this class is how undersized they are compared to other teams (like those seen in the Big 10).  When it comes to playing time, that becomes a small issue, as Florida’s depleted roster gives many of the freshmen a chance to not only compete for court time but also for starting spots.

The highlights of this class are Whaley and Backlund. With a roster that sees no returning OH’s, Whaley will have to be an immediate contributor for Florida to be successful.  On top of the accolades she brings with her, she also provides the most experience because of her early January enrollment. 

Backlund could also see the court early as Florida does not return a setter either [*note Florida’s website lists Weston as a setter but she is only used as a DS].  Although Brauneis looks to be the main candidate to run the offense, Backlund is still competing for that job while also being an option in a 6-2 offense (which Florida has run the last few years) because her impressive jumping ability allows her to hit regardless of her small stature.

Final Look: Who Wins?

DigNittany: OK, gloves off. We’re going to ask you to make a prediction about the outcome of the tournament without having seen your Gators (or any of the teams) play a single set this season.  What are your expectations for each team in the Nike Big Four?

Thrill of the ‘ville: I really like Stanford in this tournament and see them going 2-0 without breaking too much of a sweat, while Texas and Penn State will have to be satisfied by each going 1-1. Florida will be hanging their heads in disappointment as they will be the only team to leave without a win by going 0-2.

DigNittany: Thanks, as always, for taking the time for this Fanalysis. We really appreciate it.