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Friday, February 03, 2023

Even though the UF volleyball team is 6-0, Coach Mary Wise will tell you the Gators are far from perfect.

"This team is a long ways away from playing its best volleyball," she said.

With only one match to go before the Southeastern Conference schedule begins next week, the Gators will take all the time they can get to refine their play.

UF travels to Salt Lake City to take on Utah (2-3) Sunday at 6 p.m.

Wise talked about getting better at blocking earlier in the season, and the Gators have visibly improved in that area.

After blocking in the single digits in their first four matches, the Gators had 10 blocks against Santa Clara on Saturday afternoon and a season-high 16 against Florida State on Wednesday night.

But for senior outside hitter Marcie Hampton, that's not enough.

"There's a lot we have to get better on," she said. "We have a ton to work on - blocking, serving and just the basics. We have to get better in order to beat (SEC) teams."

Senior setter Angie McGinnis has noticed a step-up in play, but said there is plenty of room to get better in setting, passing and blocking.

"It's all coming around," she said, "but I definitely think that in order to beat the top teams in the SEC, and then eventually the NCAA Tournament, we have to improve those three areas."

UF certainly doesn't want to come out flat like they did against Florida State Wednesday, losing the first game before taking the final three.

"If we ever come out like that again, we will all be benched," senior middle blocker Kisya Killingsworth said.

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Though the Utes have a losing record, they received votes in the most recent American Volleyball Coaches Association Poll and are coming off a win against Purdue, a team that was ranked 17th at the time.

Instead of playing in a large basketball arena like the Gators do, Utah plays its matches in a secondary arena. Wise thinks this experience in Utah will help come SEC play.

"They play in a smaller auxiliary gym," she said. "And I think that's good for our team before we go into places like Alabama and some of the SEC schools that play in a smaller facility, where the crowd's right on top of you."

UF and Utah met last season with UF taking the win 3-1 at home. McGinnis recorded UF's second career triple-double in that match with 56 assists, 11 digs and 10 kills.

Hampton leads the team in kills with 72 kills, outside hitter Amber McCray is second with 48 and Killingsworth is third with 37.

"We all play with a love for the game and we're all very competitive," Hampton said. "As a group, [the seniors] look to set an example."

McGinnis is also up there in kills, with 32 so far. She is tallying 1.78 kills per game, more than half a kill per game higher than her career average before this season.

Her kills often come on sneaky downward slaps over the net when the opponent thinks she is going to set the ball to a hitter instead.

"The team needs that in order to open up our offense," McGinnis said. "In order for the block on the other side to be confused, they have to be worrying about the setter kill as well as the hitter. I kind of have to do that in order to open up our offense."

These kills come as a surprise both to the opponent and her Gators teammates, resulting in louder-than-usual cheers in the post-point huddle.

"I think sometimes I fake people out," McGinnis said. "That's why they get so excited, because they didn't know it was coming."

JAECKEL TO REDSHIRT: Freshman outside hitter Kristy Jaeckel will redshirt the 2007 season.

Jaeckel, who is not yet 18 years old, came into UF as a PrepVolleyball.com All-American and played on the 2007 U.S. Junior National A2 Team.

She was not scheduled to be a freshman this year and instead was going to wait until the 2008 season to enroll.

But her mother, Sharon, said she is very competitive and wanted to train early to be ready for 2008 without losing her first year.

"She wanted to get stronger and she didn't want to burn a year of eligibility," Sharon said.

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