Mary Wise, head coach of the University of Florida's volleyball program, is embarking on her 30th season at the helm in Gainesville. Wise is the seventh most tenured coach in any sport sponsored by the Southeastern Conference. During her tenure, she has led her program to 24 SEC titles, including 18 consecutive crowns from 1991 to 2008, the Division I record for most consecutive conference titles by a single program. Heading into the 2020 season, Wise has earned 958 career victories, with 877 wins at Florida, the seventh most by any Division I coach at one school in NCAA history.
"We have been very fortunate," Wise said. "In this profession, that does not happen. Coaches do not remain at the same school as I have been fortunate enough to do. Part of that is that there is no push-back to leave Florida. The school, the athletic department and the community - with all of those combined, this has been a really special place for our family. We have had a pretty great run so far."
Among the roster of student-athletes that have played for Wise at Florida, there have been 45 who have earned 117 All-America honors and 71 who have combined to claim 148 All-SEC honors. Off the court, four student-athletes have been named the SEC Scholar-Athlete of the Year, and seven players have been tabbed as Academic All-Americans.
"What we have tried to do in recruiting is to identify players that were talented - not only talented in terms of volleyball skills, but talented in terms of their drive," Wise said. "The competitiveness that allowed them to be successful on the court has allowed them to succeed in the classroom. It is not easy at a school like the University of Florida to compete for grades amongst the types of students who attend UF, just like it is not easy to win on the court. What we have been fortunate enough to recruit are those players that are willing to put in the time and effort, to work that hard to do well in both areas."
With the cancellation of the remainder of the 2019-20 athletic year, including the 2020 spring volleyball season, staying between the student-athletes and the Florida coaching staff has been adapted into a new structure.
"It is a challenge for all of us," Wise noted. "We are trying to use technology - we have our weekly team Zoom call. We also have our individual check-ins, where we have divided the team up into groups. The coaches check in with the players, and we rotate which players are in which groups. We asked one our former players who teaches in the College of Journalism - Taylor Williams - she is doing a program with the players and teaching them how to journal. We want to take advantage of this opportunity to teach a skill. We always have lots of ideas and things we would love to do during the season, but there isn't the time. Now we have the time, and we are trying to take advantage of it. Maybe our players will come up with new skills that we can share as a family, and we can make this a positive experience."
Under the guidance of Wise, Florida volleyball has posted numerous team and individual achievements over the years. Looking ahead, there are more to come, especially one very special achievement. "[The 2020 season] seems so far away. What is it going to look like - that is what we don't know. The most important thing is that we as individuals, we as a program, we as an athletic department, a University, a community - that each of us can do what we can do to alleviate this situation with the pandemic. We can stay home, practice social distancing and make good decisions. Honestly, the only goal that matters right now is that when we come back, we all come back together."