Gators volleyball tries to clinch SEC

The No. 16 Florida volleyball team returns home for their final regular season weekend at the Stephen C. O’Connell Center. The Gators welcome the LSU Tigers for their first and only matchup of the season on Friday evening. First serve is set for 6 p.m. ET on Country 103.7 The Gator with Tom Collett and former Gator defensive specialist Claire Roach Lessinger.

On Sunday, the Gators host the South Carolina Gamecocks on Florida’s Senior Day. The match, honoring Betsy Smith (Atlanta, Ga.), Sundai Weston (Naples, Fla.), and Tangerine Wiggs (Seattle, Wash.), will air live on Sun Sports with Collett and former Gator All-SEC selection Missy Whittemore. The radio call will be live on with Cory Stephens on play-by-play and Lessinger. First serve is set for 1:30 p.m. ET.

Florida has a three-match lead in the SEC standings heading into the final weekends of SEC play, and the Gators must win at least one more match to clinch a share of the Southeastern Conference and two more matches to take home the SEC crown outright. Florida can also claim the title outright with one more victory if SEC foes Tennessee and Texas A&M each suffer losses on Friday evening.

The Gators swept both of their opponents last weekend, hitting the road to take on the Missouri Tigers (3-0: 25-17, 25-16, 25-19) and the Ole Miss Rebels (3-0: 25-22, 25-22, 25-17). In Columbia on Friday, reigning SEC Offensive Player of the Week Živa Recek (Kočevje, Slovenia) turned in 17 kills against the Tigers, hitting .405 on the night. In the back row, sophomore defensive specialist Holly Pole (Ocala, Fla.) registered one of the best nights of her young career with a match-high 12 digs despite only playing three rotations. Middle blockers Smith and Chloe Mann (Gainesville, Fla.) notched 10 and nine kills, respectively, while setter Taylor Brauneis (Crystal Lake, Ill.) dished out 40 assists and added five kills of her own. The Gators hit .368 in the three-set sweep, marking the ninth time this year that Florida has hit above .350.

On Sunday in Oxford, Recek put down 15 kills on the afternoon and fellow freshman Berkley Whaley was virtually unstoppable with six errorless kills on 12 swings. Seniors Wiggs and Smith tallied nine and seven kills, respectively, combining for a .577 hitting clip. Smith and Wiggs also stuffed a team-high three blocks. On the whole, Florida hit .365 for the match, courtesy of Brauneis, who dished out 40 assists on the afternoon. Sophomore libero Taylor Unroe (Muncie, Ind.) scooped a match-high 16 digs to go along with two aces, finding a way to frustrate the Rebels’ offense by touching nearly every attack. Joining her in patrolling the back row was Pole, who followed up her impressive performance at Missouri by recording nine against the Rebels.

LSU is 12-14 on the season and 8-9 in league play. The Tigers have won five of their last eight matches dating back to October 14. LSU is led by junior middle blocker Desiree Elliott, who already has 965 kills for her career in just two-plus seasons. On the outside, senior Madie Jones has been steady for the Purple and Gold, nailing 354 kills this season and powering 10 or more kills in 14 of her last 16 outings.

South Carolina is 16-13 on the year and 4-13 in SEC action. The Gamecocks are led by Juliette Thévenin, who stands 12th in program history with 1,057 kills and 10th with 2,746 attacks. Thévenin averages 4.20 kills/set, good for third in the SEC.

Courtesy of UF Communications