Volleyball commentary: NCAA Gainesville Regional
The scene awaiting the Longhorn Volleyball team as they made their way onto the University of Florida's campus was much different than the Forty Acres they left behind in Austin. The hill country and tall oaks were traded for Spanish moss and palm trees, and the differences did not end there.
When Texas steps out onto the court Friday evening, the crowd will be sporting an unfamiliar shade of orange, coupled with blue in support of the Florida Gators. The Stephen C. O'Connell Center sits less than 50 feet away from UF Football's stadium, "The Swamp," and carries the same menacing connotations of being one of the toughest places for visiting teams to play in the nation.
In fact, the Gators Volleyball team carries a record of 157-9 on their home court over the past decade including a 16-0 mark this season. Texas, however, has compiled a 10-3 mark away from Gregory Gym in 2007, with their only losses occurring at No. 1 Penn State and No. 2 Nebraska.
Texas' tough road schedule this season has prepared them for just this occasion. The first two matches of the season were played at Penn State, and though they resulted in losses, they provided a fast learning curve for a young Texas team.
"Our schedule has been difficult. We've been challenged a lot and that is an advantage for us, because there are not a lot of things a team can do that we haven't seen this year," noted head coach Jerritt Elliott.
After the Penn State matches, the Horns went on to collect a 3-1 mark in road matches against ranked opponents. The Longhorns finished 19-1 in the Big 12 Conference and lit the tower orange with their first Big 12 Conference Championship since 1997.
The crowd for UT's Regional semifinal against Florida is estimated to be in excess of 4,000 fans. Texas has become accustomed to playing in front of big, loud crowds this year, but they have been predominantly Longhorn-friendly. Gregory Gym has posted two 4,000+ crowds, and the 4,286 fans who were on hand to watch the Longhorns sweep No. 1 Nebraska marked the largest crowd in the gym's current configuration.
The 2007 NCAA Gainesville Regional is the Longhorns' second consecutive regional semifinal; the last time they attended regional semifinals in back-to-back seasons was from 1997-1998. Because last season's Regionals were played in Austin, the only current Longhorns to play an NCAA game on the road are the seniors. That game was played against eventual national champion Stanford in 2004 at the Green Bay Regional.
Despite inexperience with road playoff games, Texas is ready to take on the Gators.
"I think that Florida being at home is a big advantage for them, but we have been put in a lot of difficult situations in conference whether it be at Texas A&M or against Nebraska or Kansas State," said Elliott. "Our team has actually done a very nice job of embracing those situations and has played very well in those environments."