Mary Wise told us. But no one believed her.
She said the Southeastern Conference was better and gone were the days when Florida’s volleyball could just “roll out the balls” and win.
Turns out she was right. Arkansas proved as much last weekend, knocking off the Gators, 31-29, 32-30, 20-30, 12-30 and 20-18.
“It showed us how far we have to go before we get to where we want to be,” senior outside hitter Marcie Hampton said. “I think we were starting to get a little complacent, starting to get comfortable where we’re at. Hopefully, it served as a wake-up call and we’ll take it and learn from it and take it into our next match this weekend.”
The loss ended UF’s run of 27 consecutive regular-season SEC victories and 18 straight road victories. Arkansas, which had lost 23 of 24 to Florida, rallied in games one and two to take control of the match.
“I think it was mental,” Hampton said. “We had a few match points at the end. We had them down 20-13 in game one and then had them down 25-22 couldn’t finish. I think that’s mental. I think it came down to us not putting away the games. That’s been a theme, a problem of ours, that we haven’t been putting people away. We haven’t been able to finish. It caught up with us and exposed us in that light.”
Florida (16-1 overall, 9-1 in the SEC) dropped five spots in the national rankings, settling in at No. 10 at the season’s mid point. The Gators start four seniors, but even experienced players need to be nudged.
“I think what we learned was it put into action what coaches always say,” Wise said. “You can talk about it all you want. On any given night on the road in this league and in this day and age, when you play a team that’s playing well and they get on a roll, they’re hard to beat. Even as well as Arkansas was playing, we had our chances and didn’t capitalize. Those are lessons that in coaching, you can tell them all you want, but sometimes you have to learn the hard way.”
With the timing of the schedule — Florida traveled to Fayetteville hours after defeating South Carolina on Wednesday – Wise sensed a possible letdown.
“We knew it was a sandwich game,” Wise said. “The schedule was such that we knew it would be a tough one. The record of the teams that play the travel partner on Wednesday and then go on the road and play the lone team on Friday? One and seven. So we’re not the only one having trouble doing that. Even so, we felt that our talent would be better than that. Give Arkansas credit. Their seniors were pretty outstanding. Hey, it’s happening in football. It happens in volleyball.”
A chance for redemption will come Friday night at Auburn; Sunday, the Gators visit Georgia.
“I think the team’s looking forward to playing and competing again,” Wise said. “I don’t think going to Auburn and Georgia are any different than going to Arkansas. You have to be ready and bring your ‘A’ game when you’re on the road. Can’t leave your ‘A’ game at home. Before, there was a gap with us. We could go on the road, not play well and win. That’s not 2007. That’s not reality. There are too many good teams. Too many good players.”
Her players, it appears, got the message loud and clear.
“We’re all so competitive, we all want to win so badly that I think it really ate at us all, especially the seniors,” Hampton said. “We were just… All weekend—we had two days off—but it wasn’t fun, because you sit in bed and think about it, should have done this, this and this. It was only one match and we’ll learn from it, but at the same time it was really, really hard for us to take.”
Florida’s next home match set for Friday, Oct. 26, against LSU.