Volleyball preview: South Carolina

The No. 17 Florida Gators take on the South Carolina Gamecocks Wednesday at 7 p.m. in the Stephen C. O’ Connell Center to wrap up their regular season matches. The Gators are on a 6-0 winning streak after two three-set sweeps this past weekend. Florida had improved to 16-3 in the SEC and 23-5 on the season, notching a .842 winning percentage.

The Gators had great efficiency numbers over the past weekend as they notched a season-high hitting clip of .519 against Georgia on Friday and hit a .366 against Auburn on Sunday. The Orange and Blue held the Bulldogs to a mere .054 hitting percentage and the Tigers to .167 on the afternoon.

On Friday, Florida swept the Bulldogs, 25-14, 25-15, 25-14. Senior Kristy Jaeckel led the Gators’ offense, recording a match-high 14 kills hitting on a .480 clip and served up three aces to continue her killer-serving streak.

“Against Georgia, one could argue was one of our most complete matches of the year,” Florida head coach Mary Wise said. “We hit over 500 as a team and held Georgia at .054. It was just one of those nights where things were really clicking for us, playing well at home, especially Kristy Jaeckel. Her 19 points in three sets is pretty effective.”

The outside hitter also put up three blocks and notched 19 points on the night, a feat that that hasn’t been achieved in a three-set win since Nov. 29, 2007 when Callie Rivers picked up 19.5 points against College of Charleston.

Sophomore Chloe Mann knocked down 9 kills off of 11 swings hitting on a match-high .818 clip. The middle blocker also put up two blocks and had 10.0 points on the night.

Lowe’s senior CLASS Kelly Murphy led the match with 21 assists, hammered five kills off of .400 clip and scooped up five digs.

On Sunday, the Gators celebrated Senior Day along with a victory over the Auburn Tigers, 25-10, 25-17, 28-26, marking the sixth consecutive victory for the Orange and Blue on Senior Day.

“Against Auburn, I thought we really took advantage of some of the unforced errors that Auburn made in the first two sets, and then the third set when they were very low error, playing well, we never really got on track because of some service errors,” Wise said. “That’s one of those things that you struggle with if your team is missing serves. It eliminates any chance of making point runs, but we held off set point against Auburn a couple of times, and we [were] able to close it out in three.”

Lowe’s senior CLASS finalist Kelly Murphy and senior outside hitter Kristy Jaeckel each had stellar performances, bringing a balanced attack to the court. Both seniors registered a match-high of 9.5 points. Murphy earned 8 kills off of 13 swings with no errors to hit on a match-high .615 clip. The setter and right-side hitter also had 14 assists, three digs and an ace. Jaeckel recorded seven kills, scooped up a match-high of seven digs, served up an ace and put up three blocks for the Gators.

The South Carolina Gamecocks stand at 14-15 for the season and 5-14 in conference play, holding the last spot in the SEC East with a .483 record. The Gamecocks are coming off a successful weekend as they defeated both Auburn and Georgia in four sets at home.

Leading the Gamecocks’ backcourt is sophomore libero Paige Wheeler, who notched the Southeastern Conference Defensive Player of the Week honor for the second time this season. The sophomore averaged 5.75 digs per set in South Carolina’s two wins over Auburn and Georgia. She registered 28 digs on Sunday against the Bulldogs to rank third in South Carolina history for digging numbers in a four-set match. The libero also had eight assists and two aces on the weekend.

For the season, Wheeler has 463 digs under her belt, the sixth most in South Carolina history. Receiving her second weekly accolade makes her just the seventh Gamecock to have earned two or more weekly conference awards.

Cara Howley is South Carolina’s powerhouse on the offensive side, as the redshirted freshman has been named AgSouth Athlete of the Week. Howley led the Gamecocks with a .319 hitting percentage in the team’s victories over the Tigers and Bulldogs. She registered a season-high 14 kills Sunday against Georgia and tied her season best notching six digs in each match. Howley ranks third on the team in kills this season, averaging 2.14 per set.

The Gators currently leads the nation in hitting efficiency with a .308 clip and are on top of the Southeastern conference in service aces, serving up 1.64 per set. The Gators’ stellar service stands 18th in the NCAA and Florida is also on top of the SEC with opponent hitting percentage, limiting their opponents to a .162 clip.

Sportsradio 850 will be broadcasting live updates on Wednesday as the Gators battle with the Gamecocks with play-by-play announcer Tom Collett and former Gator All-SEC setter Missy Whittemore. GatorVision will be streaming video live throughout the match as well.

“South Carolina Wednesday night closes the regular SEC competition,” Wise said. “Our motivation in this point in time is to do everything we can to put our resume in the best possible light when it goes in front of the committee this weekend when they make the decision for the NCAA come Sunday.”

Florida and South Carolina are meeting for the 53rd time, with Florida being victorious in 45 of those meetings in the series. Under Wise, the Gators are 40-2 against the Gamecocks and 24-1 overall against South Carolina in the Stephen C. O’Connell Center.

Wednesday’s match is Florida’s Gators Give Thanks night. Any fan that brings a new toy will receive free admission, and KTK and Sky-FM will donate all toys to Toys for Tots. Any fan that brings two canned food items will also receive free admission, with all items going to the local Salvation Army. The first 500 fans will receive a free Florida Volleyball blanket courtesy of Gatorade. Fans will also be treated to a video of the Florida seniors and what they are most thankful for this Thanksgiving.

Gator Country reporter Elizabeth Rhodes can be reached at lizxxbeth@gators.ufl.edu.