The No. 13-ranked Florida Gators continue Southeastern Conference play on the road this weekend after a 1-1 split weekend. On Friday, The Gators defeated Kentucky in four sets but fell to a young ,but talented, Tennessee team in a close five sets.
“We are excited to be back out on the court and have another chance to play a game after a little sour taste in our mouths from last Sunday,” junior middle blocker Betsy Smith said.
On Friday they take on the Auburn Tigers and on Sunday, they travel to Georgia to take on the Bulldogs. Opening serve for Friday is set for 8 p.m. in a newly opened Auburn arena and Gator fans can tune into the game on Sportsradio AM 850 for live coverage. On Sunday, the match starts at 1:30 p.m. and live game coverage will be announced on Country 103.7 FM.
“Yesterday’s (Tuesday’s) practice was one of our best practices all year,” head coach Mary Wise said. “Not surprising coming off of a disappointing loss, how focused the players are. We were not as aggressive with our serve as we would like to be, we weren’t creating one or two option passes so we worked a whole lot on serving.”
The Auburn Tigers (8-6) have a .500 record in SEC play so far, having won two games and lost two. The Tigers have not given up a match at home defeating SEC foes, Alabama and Ole Miss this past weekend in their home arena.
The Tigers are led by senior outside hitter Kelly Fidero who just had an Auburn season-high of 15 kills against Ole Miss and 29 total kills over the weekend. Sophomore setter Chelsea Wintzinger earned 64 assists this weekend while having a career-high of six kills as well. Sophomore middle blocker Camila Jersonsky could pose a danger to the Gators’ defense as she ranked third in the SEC in hitting percentage with a .363.
The past two times the Tigers and the Gators faced off, the Gators won both matches. The Gators swept the Tigers in their first appearance 3-0 but the next time they played it was a different story as the match went to five sets. Florida had to come behind to take the fifth set as they won: 25-23, 18-25, 21-25, 25-23, 15-11. The match was the second time in the series history that Auburn has taken Florida to five sets.
“They are a high energy team in the way they play both defense and offense,” Wise said. “They pursue balls with great intensity and they attack balls the same way.”
The Georgia Bulldogs (5-9) like the Gators had a split weekend to move to 1-3 for their SEC record. The Bulldogs had a 3-1 win over Ole Miss, but then fell to Alabama in four sets.
Senior setter Kathleen Gates just became the sixth player in Georgia school history to have 4,000 career assists, which elevated against the Crimson Tide to 4,061. That moved Gates to fifth-all time in assists at UGA and currently ranks fourth in the SEC in assists with 10.86 per set. Sophomore Brittany Northcutt is ranked ninth in the SEC with 3.11 kills per set and senior middle blocker Elizabeth Reid just notched a career-best of 12 kills on a career-best .611 hitting percentage against Alabama.
Florida leads the SEC in hitting percentage with a .292 and rank for sixth in the country with those statistics. The Gators are also second in service aces in the SEC with an impressive 1.67 per set to rank 25th in the NCAA.
“I feel like we are getting better as the time goes on,” senior middle blocker Cassandra Anderson said. “We want to have our best season and our best defensive game towards the end of the season.”
Under head coach Mary Wise the Gators have lost only one match combined to the Auburn Tigers and the Georgia Bulldogs. UF leads both teams on all-time records with leading Auburn, 36-1 and Georgia, 51-9. The Gators have won 12 straight SEC matches on the road and hope this continue this winning streak.
“We are watching more video, practicing longer and harder,” redshirt freshman libero Taylor Unroe said. “We are learning what type of team we want to be, not necessarily who we are right now but who we want to be.”
Gator Country reporter Elizabeth Rhodes can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.