Gators back home for SEC play

The No. 11 Florida Gators volleyball team is back in the Stephen C. O’Connell Center this weekend to take on Southeastern Conference foes Arkansas and Kentucky.

On Friday evening, the Gators (11-2, 5-0 SEC) will take on the Razorbacks (13-3, 4-1 SEC) at 7 p.m., and then on Sunday afternoon will battle it out with the Wildcats (9-6, 3-2 SEC) at 3 p.m.

“This is probably going to be one of our toughest SEC weekends that we’ve had in quite some time, because both teams are playing so well right now,” UF coach Mary Wise said.”

The Gators lead the nation in hitting percentage (.327) and junior setter Taylor Brauneis leads the SEC in assists per set with 11.67. Senior Tangerine Wiggs leads the conference in hitting efficiency, as the right-side hitter has registered a .449 clip on the season.

After going 2-0 last weekend on the road, the Gators remained undefeated in SEC play. Florida defeated both South Carolina (3-1: 25-14, 25-23, 21-25, 25-17) and Mississippi State (3-0: 25-14, 25-9, 25-18) with junior middle blocker Chloe Mann leading the way. Mann notched a season-high .621 hitting clip and a career-high 20 kills to aid the Gators in defeating the Gamecocks.

“We were led by the performance of obviously Chloe Mann,” Wise said. “It was pretty amazing for her to have 20 kills off of 29 swings and her .621 hitting efficiency was a career-high.  She had the hot hand that’s for sure.”

Over both matches, Mann registered 25 kills hitting on a .611 clip and put up seven blocks.

“Obviously, Chloe is a major offensive weapon for us,” sophomore libero Taylor Unroe said. “We have a lot of offensive weapons, but Chloe has really come into her own this year.”

Freshman sensation Živa Recek also registered 25 kills last weekend while Wiggs recorded 19. Wiggs hit .385 against the Gamecocks and Bulldogs and also led the team in blocking with nine stuffs. Senior middle blocker Betsy Smith recorded 14 kills over the weekend for the Gators.

Brauneis was excellent on the road notching 90 assists, while Unroe picked up 36 digs during the two matches.

“I think Taylor has been doing amazing,” Mann said. “She really is like our calm, cool steady person back there playing defense, and I can sense the calmness she brings to the court. Her experience, just how well she’s been playing this season it’s great to watch.”

Arkansas comes into the O’Connell Center with its last loss being to Florida back in September. The Razorbacks hosted and defeated both Auburn and LSU last weekend with senior opposite hitter Roslandy Acosta leading the way with 25 kills for the Razorbacks. Arkansas swept Auburn while defeating LSU in four sets at the Barnhill Arena.

“Arkansas hasn’t lost since we beat them in a five-game thriller in Fayetteville, and since then they’re just lighting it up both offensively and defensively,” Wise said. “To go to Tennessee and win, to go to Georgia and sweep and they’ve also since then beaten Auburn and LSU at home, so this Arkansas team doesn’t surprise us because they’re so senior dominated.”

Kentucky is on a three-match winning streak after defeating Texas A&M at home in five, sweeping then-No. 25 Tennessee and defeating Auburn in four at home.

Junior Whitney Billings was named SEC Player of the Week after a sensational weekend, becoming the first Wildcat to earn a league accolade this season. The outside hitter registered 29 kills, 31 digs and eight blocks on the weekend.

Senior setter Christine Hartmann was incredible this past weekend distributing the ball for 80 assists against the Lady Vols and Tigers. Senior Stephanie Klefot has played a huge role in the Wildcats’ success as the libero has recorded 50 digs over their last three undefeated matches.

“The weekend after we were fortunate enough to beat Kentucky in Lexington, they went on the road,” Wise said. “On that Sunday match they beat an undefeated SEC team, Texas A&M, on their home court. Well, the history of Texas A&M not many people have done that and Kentucky goes in there and wins a five-game thriller. From that point on, they’re just playing at a whole different level.”

Friday’s match will be streamed live through GatorVision and can also be heard on Country 103.7 The Gator. Sunday’s match will be Florida’s first televised match of the season as the game will air on Fox Sports Florida. The match will also be streamed live through GatorVision and can be heard on Country 103.7 The Gators. 

Gator Country reporter Elizabeth Rhodes can be reached at