UF volleyball returns home

The 17th ranked Florida Gators volleyball team returns home to the Stephen C. O’Connell Center this weekend for Friday and Sunday matches against the Alabama Crimson Tide (11-14, 4-10 SEC) and the Ole Miss Rebels (8-14, 3-7 SEC).

The Orange and Blue are now 17-5 for the season and 10-3 in conference play after hard losses this past weekend. It’s homecoming week for the University of Florida, which moves up the match time for Friday a couple hours earlier than normal due to Gator Growl. The Gators will take on the Crimson Tide at 4:00 p.m. on Friday and opening serve on Sunday is set for 2:00 p.m.

GatorVision (http://www.gatorvision.tv) will be streaming live via web from the O’Dome Friday evening to keep fans unable to attend the match updated on all the latest action. Sunday’s match against Ole Miss will be televised on CST/CSS and Country 103.7-The Gator will be broadcasting live calling all the play-by-play action as well.

The Gators swept both teams in three sets earlier this season during the first half of conference play, defeating the Rebels on Oct. 14th (25-23, 25-21, 25-11) in Oxford, MS and the Crimson Tide (25-21, 25-16, 25-13) on Oct. 16th in Tuscaloosa, AL.

Seniors Kelly Murphy, Kristy Jaeckel and Stephanie Ferrell led the Gators on the road last weekend as the suffered two disappointing losses against the No. 15 Tennessee Lady Volunteers (21-3, 13-1 SEC) and the No. 13 Kentucky Wildcats (21-4, 12-2 SEC). The Orange and Blue fell to the Lady Vols in a 3-1 loss (15-25, 25-17, 23-25, 21-25) and came up short against the Wildcats in a five-set match (23-25, 25-19, 21-25, 25-17, 9-15).

“Maybe offensively we were good enough, our play at the net was good enough but where our team has to get better is in terms of our transition defense,” Florida head coach Mary Wise said regarding the Gators’ performance over the weekend. “We scored at a very low rate in transition, a lot of that has to do with the back row defense and then getting quality digs to be able terminate in transition.”

Tennessee’s win over the Gators puts the Lady Vols in driver’s seat in the conference as they claim the top seed in the SEC. Kentucky and Florida were tied for second place in the Southeastern conference going into Sunday’s match, resulting in the Wildcats’ being victorious in taking the second-place spot. This dropped the Gators right beneath Tennessee and Kentucky in third place for conference standings and from being ranked 13th to 17th.

The only SEC losses the Gators have are against Tennessee as the Lady Volunteers swept this season’s series and again Kentucky in the second round of conference play. The Gators previously defeated the Wildcats earlier in the season 3-1 (25-12, 25-19, 23-25, 25-18).

Outside hitter Jaeckel recorded double-doubles in both matches and setter/right-side hitter Murphy registered a double-double against the Lady Vols and a triple-double against the Wildcats. Outside hitter Ferrell earned double-digit kills in both matches for the Gators.

Jaeckel put down 15 kills and recorded 13 digs while Murphy had 28 assists and took control of the back row with 14 digs against the Lady Volunteers. Outside hitter Ferrell knocked down 11 kills against Tennessee to be vital for the Orange and Blue’s offense.

Against the Wildcats, Murphy recorded 15 kills to lead the Gators, 24 assists and scooped up a second-team best of 13 digs. Jaeckel notched 13 kills and 11 digs and Ferrell hammered 11 kills once again for the Gators.

Sophomore middle-blocker Chloe Mann hit career-high numbers against Kentucky knocking down a career-high 10 kills and picked up a career-high seven digs.

Coach Wise has put Tennessee and Kentucky in the rearview mirror and is now focusing solely on what the Gators need to improve on to go deep in the NCAA tournament.

“We talked to the team about where we can see improvement,” Wise said. “There are some things that you can’t control, our middles aren’t going to get any taller but we think there are balls that were not taken care of on the first contact.”

Alabama posted a 1-1 record last weekend with a win over Georgia (25-17, 25-22, 25-22) and a loss to Auburn (25-22, 23-25, 18-25, 25-18, 14-16). The Crimson Tide outhit its opponents .213 to .181 and registered 17.0 total blocks in the two matches to average 2.12 blocks per set. Alabama totaled a three-set season-high 78 digs against Georgia and their victory over the Bulldogs marked their fourth SEC victory of the season, to surpass last season’s three conference wins.

Ole Miss enters Friday’s match looking to extend their three consecutive win streak that began on Oct. 23 against the LSU Tigers. The Rebels went undefeated this weekend as they posted wins over Auburn (23-25, 25-22, 25-23, 25-19) and Georgia (25-19, 25-17, 25-23).  Ole Miss’s sophomore outside hitter Kellie Goss hit a career-high .778 hitting percentage against the Bulldogs, as she was successful in seven out of her nine attacks with no errors and four blocks. 

“The good news is we are home,” Wise said. “But the challenge will be we are playing two teams that look like they’ve turned the corner in terms of their play so it will be great quality competition this weekend.”

Players to watch for Alabama:

Sophomore setter Andrea McQuaid

McQuaid recorded her third triple-double of the season with 10 kills, 21 assists and 12 digs against Auburn. The sophomore also registered a double-double with 15 assists and 13 digs against Georgia. McQuaid had a career-high four total blocks against Auburn and tied her career-high with two solos. 

Junior outside hitter Kayla Fitterer

The junior was vital to Alabama’s offense and defense, hitting stellar numbers with 24 kills and averaging three kills per set and was second on the team with 32 digs in the two matches, averaging four digs per set. She earned double-double in each match, to extend her season total to 13 and career total to 24. She had 10 kills and 15 digs in the win over Georgia and 14 kills and a team-high 17 digs against Auburn. 

Redshirt sophomore libero/ defensive specialist Cristina Arenas 

She averaged 18.0 digs per match, notching 21 digs against Georgia and 15 against Auburn. Arenas excelled in service this past weekend tying her career-high of four aces in the match against Auburn. Arenas has reached double-digits in digs in 17 matches this season and leads the team with 311 total digs to average 3.46 per set.

Senior setter Stephanie Riley

The senior distributed the ball last weekend to total for 42 assists last week. This totals up to 1,791 assists for her career to rank sixth all-time at Alabama in career assists. 

Player to watch for Ole Miss:

Senior middle blocker Regina Thomas

The senior is hitting a league-best .382 clip and hit a season-high .643 against the Georgia Bulldogs with 10 kills and three blocks. She also knocked down nine kills against the Auburn Tigers and registered six blocks.

Junior outside hitter Allegra Wells

Wells is a powerhouse offensively leading the Rebels with 222 kills and averaging 2.58 kills per set. Wells knocked down 18 kills against Auburn and Georgia along with four blocks to lift the Rebels over both opponents.

Sophomore outside hitter Kara Morgan

For conference matches, Morgan has knocked down 140 kills and is averaging 2.46 kills per set for the Rebels. She posted a double-double against Auburn tying the team-high in both kills and digs as she notched 12 kills and registered 15 digs. Against the Georgia Bulldogs, Morgan added four kills, five digs and three aces.

Senior libero Morgan Springer

Springer leads the Ole Miss’ defense, averaging 4.05 digs per set and has 1,550 career digs heading into the weekend. This ranks her fourth in the SEC league in digs as she scooped up 23 this past weekend.