Gators volleyball faces road tests

The No. 11 Florida volleyball team looks to stay undefeated in the Southeastern Conference as the Gators travel to Alabama and Texas A&M this weekend.

Florida is coming off of a pair of league wins after defeating both Ole Miss and Auburn in three sets in the Stephen C. O’Connell Center last week. The Gators currently hold a two-match lead in the standings.

“The fact that we were able to win both matches in three was indicative of some pretty good playing on our part, especially,” UF coach Mary Wise said. “I thought both teams, Ole Miss and Auburn, came in here and played very well.”

The Gators (15-2, 9-0 SEC) first take on the Crimson Tide (14-7, 3-6 SEC) at 8 p.m. Friday in the Foster Auditorium. Sunday’s match against Texas A&M (15-3, 7-2 SEC) begins at 2 p.m. in the Reed Arena.

Florida defeated Ole Miss (25-14, 25-12, 25-22) in the O’Dome led by freshman outside hitter Ziva Recek. Recek led the match with 17 kills, recording only two errors. The freshman hit on a .385 hitting clip while picking up five digs and two blocks for the Gators.

“Looking back on the Ole Miss match we did not start off taking very good care of the ball and thus Ziva had to take way too many swings,” Wise said. “Fortunately, she carried us on Friday night until we got our offense on track.”

Junior middle blocker Chloe Mann led the match with a .750 hitting clip, recording no errors. Mann registered six kills off of eight attempts and put up three blocks against the Rebels.

Sophomore defensive specialist Holly Pole had one of her best matches of her career with a season-high 13 digs. Pole led the Gators in digs for the first time in her career.

Senior middle blocker Betsy Smith recorded three aces for a new career-high and tallied five digs. Junior setter Taylor Brauneis led the match with 29 assists, while sophomore libero Taylor Unroe registered 10 digs and served up two aces.

On Sunday, the Gators came back to the O’Dome to sweep the Auburn Tigers (25-19, 25-19, 25-15) led by powerful duo of Smith and Mann.

Smith was nearly flawless dominating the net with 11 errorless kills off of 12 swings. The middle blocker hit off of a career-high .917 hitting percentage.

“[Betsy’s] not the fastest and she’s not the biggest jumper that we’ve had come through here, but we’ve had very few that worked harder,” Wise said. “Those numbers are a reflection of her work ethic.”

Mann was unstoppable as the middle blocker tied her career-high of 20 kills against Auburn. She recorded a .679 hitting clip with only one error and stuffed seven blocks to set a new season high. Mann’s hitting clip also posted a new season high for the junior. The middle blocker’s 22 kills marks only the second time a Gators player has recorded 20 or more kills in a three-set match since 2008.

“Obviously, the numbers Chloe and Betsy put up were pretty amazing, the 31 kills and with only one error (combined),” Wise said. “Chloe and Betsy played very well, but also Taylor Brauneis did a great job distributing the ball and our passers and defenders were terrific.”

Brauneis notched 41 digs on the afternoon, while sophomore libero Taylor Unroe led the match with 11 digs. Unroe also served up two aces against the Tigers.

“The theme this weekend will be ‘Get to know your opponents,’” Wise said. “In Alabama they have a lot of first year players, a lot of freshman. Then on Sunday against Texas A&M, Florida hasn’t played Texas A&M in quite some time. None of our players would be familiar with them so there will be a lot of information sharing.”

The Crimson Tide are coming off a 1-1 weekend after defeating South Carolina 3-1 before falling to LSU 3-1. Leading Alabama was Laura Steiner who was named SEC Volleyball Freshman of the Week because of her performance. The outside hitter tallied 33 kills over the weekend, recording a career-high 19 kills against the Tigers. Steiner rounded out the weekend with a .333 hitting clip.

Texas A&M played to a 1-1 record last weekend as well after defeating Arkansas in a five-set thriller before falling to Kentucky in three. Against the Razorbacks, senior opposite hitter Alisia Kastmo tied her career high of 21 kills, while senior middle blocker Stephanie Minnerly had a career-high eight blocks. The Aggies recorded a season-high 15 for the match.

Junior setter Allie Sawatzky had 48 assists and 10 digs while senior libero Megan Pendergast led all players with 19 digs.

Against the Wildcats, the Aggies hit a season-low .105. Kastmo led the way for the Aggies offensively as the senior recorded nine kills. Sawatzky had 22 assists and added seven kills while Pendergast led the team with 13 digs.

“Alabama has moved into Foster Auditorium, a beautiful facility, which they renovated and their numbers in attendance has gone up in result of that,” Wise said. “Texas A&M has always had high attendance numbers so it should be a great challenge for our team this weekend.”

Gator Country reporter Elizabeth Rhodes can be reached at