For Paige Pridgeon and Nicole Baran, however, the only numbers that mattered were 3-0.
For the last two seasons North Florida has participated in the A-Sun Volleyball championship as the No. 6 seed, and has been eliminated in the first round in both opportunities.
But this year is different. North Florida is one of the hottest teams in the A-Sun, and Pridgeon and Baran are leading the charge.
Pridgeon, a member of the A-Sun All-Conference First Team, entered the championship as the active career leader and fourth overall in career kills in the A-Sun (1,548). This season she became the third player in UNF history to total 1,000 kills & 1,000 digs in career.
She is one of only two players in the A-Sun with over 400 kills this season, and she is fifth in the A-Sun in overall kills per set (3.43) and in A-Sun only matches (3.61). She has recorded double-digit kills in 25 matches this season, including 10-or-more kills in UNF's last 19 matches. In eight of her last nine matches she has tallied a double-double, and sports a total of 17 for the year.
“This year I think we did a really good job of being a team,” said Pridgeon. “Our focus was to stay together all season, being there for each other and being supportive of each other, and we definitely peaked at the right time.”
Peaking is a good choice of words. The Ospreys are in the semifinals for the first time in program history. North Florida has won seven straight, and 10 of their last 11. In fact, they had the best second half of the A-Sun season by any member institution.
It is certain that the message of playing as a team was the point of emphasis this season, a mantra that its leaders bought into completely.
“This is a great step for us, and it is all because we started playing as a team,” said Baran. “We realized that we have to rely on everyone, that everyone is not always going to have a great game. People are going to struggle sometimes, but as long as we play 14 strong, we’ll be fine. We just work hard every day and push each other.”
This season was particularly enjoyable for Baran. She became UNF's all-time career digs leader, is the A-Sun's active leader for career digs (1,851), and ranks third all-time. This season is her second in which she tallied 500+ digs in a single season. Baran set a new single-season digs record at UNF and her 580 digs are the most in the A-Sun. She won Player of the Week honors, was a tournament MVP and she was chosen as the A-Sun Libero of the Year. So in what regard does she hold all of that success?
“The accolades and recognition is nice to have individually, but our main goal is still to win the championship as a team,” says Baran. “It is nice to be recognized, but we could not have done it without our teammates and our coaches.”
Loeswick inherited a solid team, led by two seniors who provide him the leadership and support that he needed as a first-year coach.
“Nicole runs the show in the back row,” said Loeswick. “She gets us where we need to be, because to play well and win we need to be our system. She is very emotional and a very vocal leader. She is the heart and soul of this team.
Paige leads in a different way, more through example. She works hard and is able to make some great pays for us with her athletic ability.”
So the Ospreys are flying into uncharted territory, but not into something that wasn’t expected by Pridgeon, Baran or Loeswick.
“We thought we would have a nice season, but I am excited about their growth as individuals and as a team. We have been in difficult situations and we wanted to see how they would handle that. Knowing how to get through those times are important for us to continue to pay at a high level.”
“Making it this far in the championship is certainly something that I will take away from this season,” said Pridgeon. “It is good to know that we are leaving with this team going in the right direction.
“Obviously we haven’t made it this far since I have been here, and it is a great accomplishment, but none of us could have done it without each other and without our coaches. Being here is what we expected when we began the season. And now we just have to take the next game as it comes.”
So what does this dynamic duo say is of the utmost importance on Friday?
“Stay focused, play as a team.”