The No. 13 Florida Gators hit the road this weekend as they take on Ole Miss (5-11, 1-7 SEC) in the Gillom Sports Center in Oxford, Miss. on Friday and Alabama (9-10, 2-6 SEC) in the Foster Auditorium in Tuscaloosa, Ala. on Sunday. Opening serve against Ole Miss is set for 8:00 p.m. and Gator fans can tune into Sportsradio 850 for live coverage throughout the match. On Sunday the match will start at 2:00 p.m. on FOX SportSouth and live coverage will be broadcast over Country 103.7 The Gator.
The Gators swept both Arkansas and LSU this past weekend to extend their record to 13-3 and stand 6-1 in the SEC. Redshirt libero Taylor Unroe (Muncie, Ind.) led the Gators as she registered 16 digs, her highest dig performance in a sweep thus far this season.
“I gave Taylor a huge hug afterwards because I know she’s been struggling through stuff but she did awesome and that’s how she can play,” junior middle block Betsy Smith (Atlanta, Ga.) said. “I’m so glad that the rest of fans, the coaches and the rest of team can see how well she plays when she plays well.”
Florida held the LSU Tigers to .027 hitting percentage, a feat they haven’t accomplished against an SEC opponent since September 27, 2009 when they held Alabama to a .021 hitting clip.
Florida was also led by senior outside hitters Kristy Jaeckel (Littleton, Colo.) and Stephanie Ferrell (Los Angeles, Calif.) with 11 kills apiece. Jaeckel led the Gators with three service aces, tying her season high. Junior right-side Tangerine Wiggs (Seattle, Wash.) hammered eight kills, earning her second errorless performance of the season and hit a match-high .615.
Senior setter and right side hitter Kelly Murphy (Wilmington, Ill.) and sophomore Chanel Brown (Tempe, Ariz.) combined for 38 assists.
The Gators swept the Ole Miss Rebels both times they played them last year, 3-0. This year however, Florida is expecting it to be a much tougher match despite the fact that Ole Miss has struggled early on.
“Their record might not necessarily show but they’re an awesome team,” Wiggs said. “They’re returning the majority of their players from last year and they’re really experienced and really quick. They know how to find holes, to block and that’s something that we definitely need to be aware of. They have a lot of veterans on their team, they have a great middle and they play really well as a cohesive unit. We’re definitely not overlooking them based on their record, they’re a really great team.”
Ole Miss is led by senior middle blocker Regina Thomas who tops the SEC in hitting and blocks. Thomas hits at a .380 clip and puts down 1.14 blocks per set to lead the conference. Junior outside hitter Allegra Wells leads the Rebels with 2.50 kills per set this season and has 160 kills on the year.
Sophomore outside hitter Kara Morgan is also key to the Rebels’ offense as she put down a career-high 18 kills against No. 19 Tennessee this past weekend.
Senior libero Morgan Springer takes care of Ole Miss’s defense as she averages 3.98 digs per set, the fourth best average in the SEC this season.
“They’re a very athletic team,” Smith said. “They’re very physical with their blocking and their attacking by some of their positions, so we’ve been practicing defending some real physical players.”
The Crimson-Ride and the Gator show down will mark the 40th meeting all-time in the series. Florida has won the last 34 matches and leads the series 34-5. Last season, Florida posted a 3-0 win both in Tuscaloosa and in the Stephen C. O’Connell Center.
Last week sophomore middle blocker and outside hitter Shelbi Goode led the Crimson Tide with 23 kills in three matches. The sophomore averaged 2.56 kills per set and had 20 total digs, to average 2.22 digs per set.
One player that missed last week’s play is junior outside Kayla Fitterer that head coach Mary Wise is expecting big plays from Sunday.
“Alabama is a team that has their great outside hitter, Fitterer,” Wise said. “As Fitterer goes, so goes them. The fact that they lost both matches at Kentucky and Tennessee, it wasn’t surprising when we found out she wasn’t playing. I think she will be perfectly fine when we play them on Sunday, we will expect them to play with her. She is one of the best outside hitters, pre-conference, all SEC and they have athletes around her. For us it’s going to be, can we stay patient offensively, can we transition, dig against her.”
Redshirt junior middle blocker Leigh Moyer added 16 kills during the week and led the Crimson Tide with a .353 hitting percentage. Sophomore setter Andrea McQuaid had 22 kills, 2.44 kills per set, and a .300 hitting percentage. McQuaid added 13 assists against the Lady Vols to earn her 11th double-double of the season and finish the week with 36 assists and 14 digs.
“It’s the SEC roundtrip, you get everybody’s best shot,” Wise said. “You would expect the best crowds when Florida comes to town, it’s part of the deal.”
Gator Country reporter Elizabeth Rhodes can be reached at email@example.com.