Gators volleyball hits road for SEC play

The No. 12 Florida Gators volleyball team is back on the road this weekend after defeating Missouri in the Stephen C. O’Connell Center last Friday. Florida, which is still undefeated in conference play, travels to Southeastern Conference foes South Carolina and then Mississippi State this weekend.

The Gators (9-2, 3-0) face the Gamecocks (13-2, 2-2 SEC) at 7 p.m. Friday evening in Columbia, S.C., while taking on the Bulldogs (4-8, 0-3 SEC) at 1:30 p.m. Sunday afternoon in Starkville, Miss. Florida is currently leading the SEC in hitting percentage (.318) and service aces (1.63 per set).

Last weekend, the Gators did not disappoint in their lone match of the weekend. Florida swept Missouri at home 25-22, 26-24, 25-17 Friday evening, holding the Tigers to only a .139 hitting percentage and marking coach Mary Wise’s 22nd-consecutive SEC home opener with a win. Freshman outside hitter Živa Recek led the way for the Gators once again notching her third career double-double. Recek led the match with 15 kills and added 11 digs for Florida.

“We were familiar with Missouri’s personal because they had so many returning players from a year ago, the team that we played in the NCAA first round, only those young Missouri players are now a year older,” Wise said. “You can see why they lead the league in blocking. Very physical, impressive blocking team.”

Junior middle blocker Chloe Mann registered 12 kills and led the Gators with a .348 hitting clip. Senior right-side hitter Tangerine Wiggs, who currently leads the SEC in hitting percentage (.465), recorded nine kills against Mizzou. Senor middle blocker Betsy Smith and freshman outside hitter Gabby Mallette were a powerful duo, combining for 10 kills and seven blocks on the night.

Junior setter Taylor Brauneis contributed on every area of the court leading the match with 35 assists. Brauneis added eight digs, three kills and three blocks for the Gators.

Sophomore libero Taylor Unroe led the backcourt registering 15 digs against Mizzou. Unroe recorded a perfect serve-pass percentage for the 10th match this season.

“Fortunately for us, our libero is playing some of her best volleyball right now, being the top-5 in the league in digs,” Wise said. “We’ve said that when Taylor Unroe is touching the first ball good things happen, and we will really need that to happen both nights.”

Unroe has been nothing short of a sensational role model for the underclassman as the sophomore has only registered one serve-pass error this season. Unroe is ranked first in this category among starting liberos in the American Volleyball Coaches Association Top 25 poll.

“This weekend we go back on the road,” Wise said. “South Carolina was a team that was on a 13-matching winning streak. They have one of the leading point scorers in the league and although they didn’t win this past weekend on the road, we know that they’re a very, very tough team to play in Columbia. We will have our work cut out for us Friday night.”

The Gators can expect the Gamecocks to be determined to get back on their feet after dropping two matches on the road last weekend. Auburn defeated South Carolina in four sets (25-27, 25-16, 25-18, 25-22) along with then-No. 21 Tennessee (25-14, 25-20, 23-25, 25-23). Junior outside hitter Juliette Thévenin, who was named last week’s SEC Offensive Player of the Week, led the Gamecocks registering 36 kills on the weekend. Junior Paige Wheeler led the Gamecock’s back row as the libero recorded 35 digs on the weekend. Senior Taylor Bruns led South Carolina with 72 assists and tallied 18 digs on the weekend.

“Sunday night we go to Mississippi State, who, a team like us, has some young players,” Wise said. “But obviously some freshman who are doing really well for them.”

Like the Gators, Mississippi State only had one competitor last weekend, however the outcomes of the two matches weren’t the same. MSU fell to Ole Miss in four sets (18-25, 26-24, 23-25, 12-25) on the road. Underclassman led the Bulldogs offensively as sophomore middle blocker Lainey Wyman registered 12 kills and three blocks and freshman outside hitter Taylor Scott recorded 11 kills and 14 digs. Senior outside hitter Chanelle Baker led Mississippi State with .318 hitting clip and registered nine kills against Ole Miss. Freshman libero Roxanne McVey, the SEC’s digs leader, led the match with 32 digs while junior setter Paris Perret led the match with 48 assists.

Both matches will be streamed live through and can also be heard on Country 103.7 The Gator with announcer Cory Stephens.