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Sunday, March 03, 2024

Gators seek full control of SEC at home against Tigers

On paper, it's the biggest home match of the regular season.

A win puts the UF volleyball team comfortably in the lead in the Southeastern Conference.

A loss, and the other teams are right back in the mix.

LSU, the only other SEC team receiving votes in the American Volleyball Coaches Association Poll, comes to Gainesville for a match at 7 tonight that could either cloud or cement the SEC standings.

No. 10 UF (18-1, 11-1 SEC) has a two-match lead on LSU (18-4, 9-3 SEC) and is two matches up on Alabama in the loss column for the conference lead.

If the Gators can handle the Tigers tonight, they could switch on cruise control for the rest of the season.

But junior middle blocker Kelsey Bowers knows it?s not going to be a free ride.

BWe?re very excited to play them,C Bowers said. BThey?re a really competitive team. … LSU definitely has some factors. I know they have some great middles and some great outside (hitters) too.C

LSU hosted UF on Sept. 23, and it was clearly UF?s toughest match of the season up to that point.

The match lasted four games and the Tigers scored at least 24 points in each of them. LSU had a lead of 24-21 in game four and could have sent the match to a decisive fifth game, but UF rallied and scored nine straight points to close it out.

LSU will certainly be aiming for revenge when the team enters the O?Connell Center tonight. LSU was the No. 22 team in the country back when it lost to UF and only dropped out of the top 25 this week.

BI think they?re more looking towards coming back and playing hard against us and beating us,C senior middle blocker Kisya Killingsworth said.

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Killingsworth and Bowers - the reigning SEC Offensive Player of the Week - will certainly have their work cut out for them blocking in the middle of the court.

LSU is third in the conference in kills per game with 15.56. Junior Kyna Washington, who is third in the SEC with 4.15 kills per game, anchors the Tigers? hitting. She had 14 against the Gators in September.

UF coach Mary Wise thinks LSU?s offense is going to threaten UF?s defense.

BThey give everyone matchup problems because of their talent and their ability to kill balls,C Wise said. BThey?re willing to take chances. They?re always swinging. You have to be on your toes defensively to play LSU.C

The opposition is also formidable in blocking. Middle blockers Brittnee Cooper and Lauren DeGirolamo are second and fifth in the SEC, respectively, in blocks per game. Their contributions have helped make the Tigers the conference?s second-best blocking team.

UF also hosts a game against Mississippi on Sunday at 1:30 p.m.

The Gators swept the Rebels (19-5, 8-4 SEC) on Sept. 21 in Oxford, Miss.

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