UF volleyball hits the road

MILWAUKEE, Wisc. – The fourth-ranked Florida volleyball team hits the road for the final time in non-conference action, heading to Milwaukee for the Marquette Invitational. The Gators face Marquette Golden Eagles at 8 p.m. Friday before taking on Wisconsin-Milwaukee Panthers at 7 p.m. Saturday.

Last Time Out: The Gators swept in-state rival Florida State, 3-0 (25-20, 26-24, 25-23), Tuesday night. The Seminoles, ranked 17th in the latest AVCA poll, had no answer for senior middle blocker Chloe Mann and sophomore outside hitter Živa Recek, who both tallied 12 kills on the night. Freshman right-side hitter Alex Holston turned in six kills on .462 hitting to go along with four blocks, while sophomore middle blocker Simone Antwi stuffed a career-high seven blocks.

Golden Eagle to Watch: Autumn Bailey is averaging 4.13 kills per set for Marquette and has taken over 100 swings more than any of her teammates. She’s also second on the team in digs (84) and leads the team in points (139.5).

Panther to Watch: Rachel Neuberger has played in all 39 sets for the Panthers, tallying 114 kills and hitting .340. She’s getting most of the work done defensively for Milwaukee as well, stuffing .87 blocks/set.

All-Time: The Gators lead the all-time series against the Golden Eagles, sweeping Marquette in both meetings. The last matchup between Florida and Marquette came in 2006 with the Gators winning 3-0. Florida and Milwaukee will be competing against each other for the first time in program history.

Mary’s Minute: “We play Marquette, a team whose only losses have come to ranked teams,” said Florida coach Mary Wise. “They play very well at home and are so well-coached. They’re an NCAA Tournament team and it should be a great matchup for us. We have a quick turnaround and play Wisconsin-Milwaukee, a team we don’t know a lot about. It’s a great learning opportunity for us to get that Friday-Saturday turnaround, just like what you’re asked to do in the NCAA Tournament. In NCAAs, if you win on Friday, you have to turn around and play a team you’re not familiar with, you’ve never seen and your team has to rise to the challenge. Hopefully we’ll be a better team after the three matches this week and be ready as we head into conference play.”

Mary by the Numbers:
At Florida: 695-81
All-Time: 776-144

Records: Florida: 9-1, Marquette: 5-3, Wisconsin-Milwaukee: 4-6

NCAA Numbers: Senior Chloe Mann is second in the NCAA in hitting percentage (.493), while the Gators are third in the nation with a .331 offensive clip. Senior setter Taylor Brauneis is 12th in assists (11.59/set) and 15th in aces (.56/set).

Defense Doing Work: The Florida defense had one of its best weekends of the year at the Active Ankle Challenge, as libero Taylor Unroe averaged 4.70 digs/set over the weekend. Sophomore Nikki O’Rourke made the most of her minutes, averaging 2.60 digs/set in just three rotations. Junior Holly Pole was right behind her, turning in a 2.50 dig/set average over the weekend. The Gators had five players in double-digit digs against Stanford, the first time since Florida’s five-set defeat to Tennessee last season (November 4, 2012). UF has a .968 reception percentage, their second-highest in the last five seasons.

Not On Our Watch: Florida has forced six of its 10 opponents to operate at under .200 hitting efficiency. The Gators held the Hoyas to -.090 offensive clip last Friday, the second time this season a Florida opponent hit negative. Iona nearly hit negative against Florida on Saturday, tallying an .087 hitting percentage.

On The Horizon: Florida starts SEC play in the Magnolia State against Mississippi State (Fri., Sept. 27 – 8 p.m. ET) and Ole Miss (Sun., Sept. 29 – 2:30 p.m. ET). After the Gators’ participation in the Marquette Invitational, Florida will not see a non-conference opponent until the postseason.

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Franz Beard
Back in January of 1969, the late, great Jack Hairston, then the sports editor of the Jacksonville Journal, called me on the phone one night and asked me if I wanted to work for him. I said yes. The entire interview took 30 seconds. It's my experience that whenever the interview lasts 30 seconds or less, I get the job. In the 48 years that I've been writing and getting paid for it, I've covered Super Bowls, World Series, NCAA basketball championships, BCS championship games, heavyweight title fights and what seems like thousands of college football, baseball and basketball games. I'm a columnist and special assignments editor for Gator Country once again, writing about the only team that ever mattered to me, the Florida Gators.