Florida Southern will open play at the NCAA National Championships in Pensacola today.

LAKELAND — The gym had a buzz to it as the Florida Southern volleyball team eagerly waited to receive the NCAA South Region championship trophy. It was the first time in 26 years that the Mocs had won the title and they did it at Jenkins Field House.

For the players, it was an admittedly surreal moment.

For Jill Stephens, the Mocs' head coach, it was all the same. Stephens stood nearby, taking in all that came with the biggest win in her career.

She’s just a cool customer.

When a match is going poorly, Stephens stays cool. When a match is going well like it was against West Florida on Saturday, she remains an even-keeled presence.

But that ear-to-ear smile grew bigger as she saw a familiar face speed toward her. It was Lois Webb, Stephen’s former coach and, really, the patriarchs of women’s athletics at Florida Southern.

“Such a cool moment for me to share that with her,” Stephens said after the win. “Kathy Benn was the first volleyball coach (at Florida Southern). She was here for like six months and then Lois took over.

“To be able to hug those two and just know how proud they are of me and our program, that was a really, really special moment.”

Florida Southern will open play at the NCAA National Championships for the first time in 26 years today. The third-seeded Mocs have won 21-straight matches and will face sixth-seeded California State-San Bernardino at 1 p.m. in Pensacola.

This is the best team since Webb’s 1991 team finished fourth in the nation.

“I was thrilled. Absolutely thrilled,” said Webb, who describes her pupil's coaching style as silent but deadly. “I think Jill and I shared a little teary-eyed moment and then we just hugged each other some more. I couldn’t be more proud of her.”

Stephens took over for her mentor in 2001. Rough debut season aside, the Mocs remained a consistent contender in the perennially strong Sunshine State Conference. But Stephens’ demeanor — never too high, never too low — has rubbed off on this team.

“I think it helps a lot,” said junior setter Bethany Besancenez. “Every time we have a timeout and we’re down, she comes into the huddle with a smile on her face and excited. I think that gives all of us confidence.”

The funny thing is Stephens doesn’t think she’s very calm during a match.

“Do you guys think I’m chill?” Stephens asked Besancenez, Anna Tovo and Allie Geary on Saturday night. “I would say so, yeah,” Tovo said. “Yeah,” the others added.

“I don’t feel that way,” Stephens said with a laugh, “no way.”

Tovo talks about brushing off the small points and embracing the big ones. There’s no shortage of emotion and reaction from the Mocs, but they’re measured. That may be stem from the fact that 11 of the players are upperclassmen.

But it probably stems from their coach on the sideline.

“We really want to get excited about the big points and she does too,” Tovo said. “There’s the occasional foot-stomp from her which is cool, a fun thing to see. I definitely think that we definitely emulate her as players on the court.”

Brady Fredericksen can be reached at brady.fredericksen@directgates.com or 863-802-7553. Follow him on Twitter: @Brady_Fred.