The No. 19 Florida Gators volleyball team travels to Baton Rouge and Fayetteville this weekend to take on the LSU Tigers (17-8, 10-5 SEC) on Friday at 8:00 p.m. and the Arkansas Razorbacks (17-9, 9-6 SEC) at 2:00 p.m. on Sunday, respectively. This concludes the Gators’ Southeastern Conference road trips for the season as they hold a 19-5 overall record and currently stand at 12-3 in the SEC.
Announcer Cory Stephens will be on the call for Sportsradio 850 as they broadcast Friday’s match against LSU in the Maravich Center. Sunday’s match against the Razorbacks will be broadcast live from the Barnhill Arena on CSS/CST with Bernie Guenther and former Florida Gator All-SEC setter Missy Whittemore calling the action. Gator fans can also tune into Sportsradio 850, as they will also be broadcasting live from Sunday’s match with play-by-play man Cory Stephens on the air.
The Gators are coming off a successful Homecoming weekend as they swept conference foes, Alabama (25-16, 25-12, 25-21) and Ole Miss (25-13, 25-22, 25-10) in the Stephen C. O’Connell Center. Florida earned its’ 17th sweep of the season by defeating both opponents in three sets this past weekend.
“I felt like their offense never really got on track, certainly their big-time point scorers and credit our serving,” Florida head coach Mary Wise said. “Particularly our two seniors, Kristy Jaeckel and Kelly Murphy served terrific.”
Gainesville native Chloe Mann led the Orange and Blue with 14 kills in the two matches, hitting off a .542 clip with only one error. The sophomore middle blocker put up 10 blocks against the Crimson Tide and Rebels, averaging 1.67 per set while notching 20.0 points to wrap up her stellar performance on the weekend.
“Her athleticism has always been ahead of her experience, now we are getting her experience,” Wise said. “She had a couple of elite, elite plays and we haven’t had a middle in years that made the plays she made the other day.”
Senior outside hitter Kristy Jaeckel registered 13 kills, 18 digs and served up four aces on the weekend while junior right-side hitter Tangerine Wiggs fired away for 14 kills and put up six blocks for the Gators. Jaeckel is ranked in the SEC’s top-10 in three stat categories: 8th in kills (3.42 kills per set), 5th in points (4.17 points per set) and 2nd in service aces (.39 per set). Wiggs is third in hitting percentage as she hits on a .334 clip which she outshined against the Crimson Tide nailing 10 kills out of 16 swings on a .500 hitting clip.
Wise credits Jaeckel’s incredible serving performance over the weekend and how she has improved tremendously throughout the season.
“I think you notice in the past month or so, she has become so stable in terms of being very low-error and has that ability to make runs. I think the great servers in the country are those that if they can get on a run they just get more and more heat behind their serve and become harder to pass. I think there was a point in Kristy’s career where she would end that streak, before the opponents did. Whether it was a service error or just mis-hitting the ball and now she is so consistent with her toss and contact point. It’s a really high contact point with a lot of whip behind it.”
Lowe’s Senior CLASS Award finalist setter and right-side hitter Kelly Murphy totaled for six kills and 35 assists while redshirt freshman libero Taylor Unroe scooped up 26 digs on the weekend. Murphy ranks in the top-10 in the SEC in service aces (.40 per set – 1st), hitting percentage (.314 – 5th) and assists (5.93 per set – 10th) while Unroe is seventh in the conference in digs with 3.62 per set.
“We made some really good defense plays,” Wise said about the Gators’ performance last weekend. “I felt Taylor Unroe took a step this week and not only in the matches, but in practice as well. In terms of, she was outstanding in her serve receive but is improving on the other part of the libero position, in terms of making the transition digs on defense.”
Freshman defensive specialist Holly Pole had her first career start against the Ole Miss Rebels and registered a career-high seven digs.
“Chloe and Holly were really very productive in practice this week and they needed the chance,” Wise said. “It was more that, I have full-confidence that we could have Madison Monserez in that position or Cassandra (Anderson) who has played it for four years, but felt those two really needed playing time experience. There’s nothing we can do in practice to really simulate the game-like.”
The LSU Tigers are coming off two road wins as they defeated Auburn and Georgia this past weekend. The Tigers defeated Auburn in an intense four-set match (28-26, 33-35, 27-25, 25-23) with each stanza not being capped by more than two points. In Georgia, LSU closed out the Bulldogs in the five-set thriller (20-25, 25-17, 25-16, 21-25, 18-16) to improve to a 10-5 conference record and 17-8 for the season to lead the SEC West.
SEC Freshman of the Week Helen Boyle hit .377 over the weekend for the Tigers, averaging a double-double of 14.5 kills and 14 digs. Freshman setter Malorie Pardo matched her career-high assist record against the Georgia Bulldogs as she distributed the ball for 60 assists and scooped up 10 digs to mark her 10th double-double of the season. LSU is also led by sophomore middle blocker Desiree Elliott and junior outside and right-side hitter Madie Jones, who rank fifth and sixth in the SEC in kills with 3.57/set and 3.49/set.
Arkansas was split 1-1 over the weekend as the Razorbacks were defeated in Georgia but pulled out a win in Auburn. Arkansas lost in an intense five-set match against the Georgia Bulldogs (25-15, 23-25, 25-23, 21-25, 15-12) despite junior outside hitter Jasmine Norton’s season-high 27 kills and freshman libero/defensive specialist Christa Alvarez’s 19 digs. The Razorbacks ended the weekend with a three-set sweep over Auburn (25-20, 25-18, 25-19) with Norton leading the way once again for the Arkansas as she registered a match-high 15 kills and Alvarez picked up a match-high 11 digs. The Razorbacks is ranked right behind LSU in the SEC West with a 9-6 SEC record and a 17-9 overall mark.
Arkansas is led by SEC Offensive Player of the Week Jasmine Norton, who averaged 6.06 points per set and 5.25 kills per set last weekend against Georgia and Auburn. The junior posted her ninth double-double of the season against the Bulldogs and recorded 42 kills on the weekend. Norton is sixth in the SEC in kills with a 3.47 average per set and seventh in points per set with 4.09. Arkansas is also led by Christa Alvarez who notched 30 digs to led the Razorbacks’ backcourt.
Florida is 33-13 all-time against the LSU Tigers, including an undefeated 30-5 streak under Florida head coach Mary Wise. Wise has coached the entire series against Arkansas as the Gators lead the Razorbacks all-time, 31-2.
“We were really good in the side-out offense, we were better defensively and showing the progress has been our goal all season in terms of just getting better from week-to-week,” Wise said. “And now the challenge will be take this on the road against two teams that if we had divisions in women’s volleyball, they would both be competing for the SEC west title.”