Florida volleyball begins SEC play

The No. 7 Florida Gators are preparing to take on the Mississippi State Bulldogs Friday at 8:00 p.m., in Starkville, MS. Last year, the Gators defeated the Bulldogs both times they played them for conference play, 3-0 in Mississippi State’s gym and 3-1 in the O’Connell Center.

The Gators’ overall record thus far is 7-2 and the Bulldogs’ is 5-4. This match will kick off SEC conference games for both teams.

“There are no breaks,” coach Mary Wise said when talking about SEC play. “You got to play everybody on the road and you have to play them all twice. That’s way to win a league is such a significant feat because it’s been over a two month period.”

The Gators are starting fresh from a 1-1 performance the past weekend in Palo Alto, Calif. for the Nike Big Four Classic Tournament hosted by Stanford University.  Both matches were five-set thrillers as the Gators defeated the No. 10 Texas Longhorns but fell short to the No. 3 Stanford Cardinal.

“You never want a loss,” junior right-side hitter Tangerine Wiggs said. “But at the same time when you see what a team can do to beat you, it really shows you what has been exposed and what we need to do to get better.”

The Gators are staying focused in practice as they are getting ready to launch the SEC competition.

“Our practices every week are based on who our opponents are coming up,” freshman Holly Pole said. “So last couple of weeks they have been really intense practices getting ready for Big Four, Iowa State, Florida State, those teams that we played. So now we are going to kind of shift into SEC teams.”

The Gators’ competition so far this season has been challenging and they are ready to see what else is in store for them this season

“This year has been really great,” freshman Madison Monserez said. “It has been really fun to play these different kinds of teams. We have had smart teams like Iowa State or more physical teams like Texas so we have been playing a lot of different teams so it’s been really good for us to get out there and just see all these different things we are going to see throughout the season.”

Not only is the team developing performance-wise, but also their bond as a team has grown, too.

“It’s definitely a whole different atmosphere than I’ve ever been in, but the team has been so helpful,” Monserez said. “Being on the court, they are always looking at you, smiling and trying to get you involved. There is so much confidence they have in you. The older girls have been great. The team has made is so much more easier than I ever thought it could be.”

“Holly and Maddy they are so awesome,” Wiggs said. “I can’t even describe how hard it is as a freshman to come in that environment, especially them coming in against three awesome teams (Iowa State, Texas, Stanford). They both came in with full confidence and when they are confident, that makes us confident in them.”

The Bulldogs have been getting much recognition lately due to senior outside hitter Caitlin Rance. Rance has been named 10th in the NCAA and second in the SEC for kills per set. She was named tournament MVP for the Bulldogs in the MCM Elegante’ Invitational in Beaumont, Texas this past weekend and has been named one of the nation’s top performers by CVU.com.

The Bulldogs are also led by senior middle blocker Hannah Wilkinson who earned a spot on the all-tournament team in last weekend’s MCM Elegante’ Invitational. Freshman Lainey Wyman also joined Rance and Wilkinson on the all-tournament team this past weekend in Texas.

Mississippi State is coming off of a 3-0 streak, winning the MCM Elegante’ Invitational in Beaumont, Texas last weekend hosted by Lamar University.

Gator Country reporter Elizabeth Rhodes can be reached at lizxxbeth@gators.ufl.edu.