The No. 13 Florida Gators volleyball team hosts SEC rivals Georgia and Tennessee this weekend in the Stephen C. O’Connell Center. The Gators first take on the Bulldogs at 7 p.m. Friday and then face off against the Lady Vols on Sunday at 2 p.m.
The Gators (18-3, 12-0 SEC) head into the O’Dome after going 1-1 last week. Florida was swept by then-No. 12 Florida State in Tully Gymnasium (23-25, 22-25, 21-25) before coming back home to Gainesville and defeating Mississippi State in three (25-11, 25-8, 25-11).
“It was really awesome to be back in the O’Dome, we love playing here in front of our crowd,” senior setter Sundai Weston said. “It was a good match for us to get the FSU match out of our system. There were a lot of things that weren’t going our way that night and it was nice to be able to come back and regroup and execute the game plan like we should.”
The Seminoles handed the Gators their first loss since Stanford in the Nike Big Four Classic and broke the 18-year winning streak Florida had against Florida State. The Gators are currently the No. 1 team in the SEC, holding a four-match lead heading into Friday.
“They (Florida State) played so well,” head coach Mary Wise said. “It was one of the those strange matches where we outhit them, we out blocked them yet they outscored us at the end. They were very low error and we were not. It was a match where we didn’t serve very well and in that environment it was pretty wild with the crowd they had and high energy. All credit to Florida State and how well they played.”
Against the Seminoles, freshman outside hitter and SEC Co-Freshman of the Week Ziva Recek led the Gators with a double-double of 16 kills and 15 digs.
“For freshman Ziva Recek to go in there and record a double-double for her first time in Tully Gym, she really did some nice things there,” Wise said.
Senior right-side hitter Tangerine Wiggs and junior middle blocker Chloe Mann each tallied 10 kills with Mann adding four blocks.
Junior setter Taylor Brauneis led the match with 39 assists, while sophomore libero Taylor Unroe followed up Recek’s defensive performance with 12 digs.
Against Mississippi State, Wiggs made history in front of Gators fans in the O’Connell Center setting a new Florida record with her .929 hitting percentage. The senior was errorless notching 13 kills off of 14 swings.
“Tangerine was just in the zone offensively,” Wise said. “It would be like a basketball player just shooting and has that feeling like he/she can’t miss and that’s what Tang did on Friday night.”
Mann was also errorless on the night hitting .727 recording eight kills off of 11 swings. The duo combined for six blocks.
Recek added seven kills against MSU and Brauneis led the match with 25 assists. Unroe led the backcourt with 11 digs.
Georgia (13-9, 7-5 SEC) heads into the O’Dome after a split weekend. The Bulldogs swept Missouri but fell to Kentucky in a very close five-set thriller. Georgia has won four of their last six SEC matches and freshman middle blocker Jasmine Eaton was just awarded her second accolade of the season, sharing SEC Co-Freshman of the Week with Recek. This marks the first time a Bulldogs player has earned two weekly honors in one season since 2008.
Senior right-side hitter Briana Bahr also had a great performance for the Bulldogs last weekend, leading Georgia in blocks to notch a spot in the SEC’s “Top Other Performers.” This is Florida’s first time this season facing Georgia.
“They (Georgia) are arguably the most improved team in the league,” Wise said. “That staff has done such a good job since taking over and you can see it from their recruiting, from how hard they’re playing, this team competes. They just went toe-to-toe with Kentucky and was right there in a position to almost beat Kentucky.”
Tennessee (15-6, 8-4 SEC) comes into the O’Connell Center having won six of their last seven matches, including three consecutive five-set thrillers over Mizzou, Georgia and LSU.
The Lady Vols are the 2011 SEC Champions and were selected to claim the title again in 2012 by the 2012 SEC preseason coaches’ pick. Tennessee is coming off a split weekend after falling to Kentucky in five but bouncing back against Alabama to sweep the Crimson Tide. Senior middle blocker DeeDee Harrison was named SEC Defensive Player of the Week for her performance against the Wildcats and Crimson Tide.
“Tennessee we only play once and it’s this Sunday,” Wise said. “I don’t know if there’s a team in the league that has more talent, especially on their pins and you add a terrific setter now, the libero, they’re just really, really talented. We know Tennessee has always played well against Florida and it should be a great match.”
Friday’s match will be broadcast on Sun Sports while Sunday’s match will be on CSS and ESPN3. Both will be on 103.7 The Gator, as well.
Gator Country reporter Elizabeth Rhodes can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.