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Saturday, January 28, 2023

Lauren Bledsoe is going home for the Thanksgiving holiday, but there won't be much time for family and friends.

Though her family lives in Long Beach, Calif., and her home is approximately a 10-minute drive from the campus of Long Beach State, Bledsoe has other matters to attend to this weekend.

"I'm hoping we have free time, that would be really cool," the freshman outside hitter said. "Usually when we go on these trips, it's just business, volleyball."

Bledsoe and the No. 8 Gators (26-1, 19-1 Southeastern Conference) will be spending the holiday weekend honing their skills for the upcoming NCAA Tournament.

UF heads to Long Beach to take on Yale (16-7, 10-4 Ivy League) and Long Beach State (21-6, 14-2 Big West Conference) to close out its regular season with the Baden Thanksgiving Tournament on Friday and Saturday night.

The match takes place in familiar territory for Bledsoe, who says she knows the campus and the atmosphere of the volleyball complex.

"It's a good campus," she said. "I used to be play a lot of club tournaments there, so I know what goes on."

After tearing their way through the SEC, the Gators may face tougher competition than they have in a few months, something UF coach Mary Wise is looking forward to.

"It will be a great tune-up leading into the NCAA Tournament," Wise said.

UF has never played Yale in its history and is 3-5 all-time against Long Beach State.

Long Beach State won the national title three times since 1989. The team also won its conference seven times in the '90s and finished ranked in the American Volleyball Coaches Association Poll every year from 1987 to 2002.

It might appear the 49ers are on a down stretch considering their history - they have not been ranked at the end of the season since 2002 - but Wise doesn't buy it.

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"Twenty-one and six, we should all be so down," Wise said. "Because Long Beach has won multiple national championships. … Those are pretty high standards. (Suggestions they are down) is probably a response to ridiculously high expectations. They're a really talented team."

Long Beach State is just outside the current AVCA top-25 poll.

Yale, meanwhile, doesn't quite have the pedigree of Long Beach State, but the Bulldogs are hardly a pushover. They won a share of the Ivy League title in 2004.

The Friday-Saturday matches are patterned after the NCAA Tournament, which plays on consecutive days. This scheduling was not on accident, Wise said.

"It lends itself to exactly what we'll have to do the following week," Wise said. "You play one opponent on one night, and then, if you win, it's another level against the second opponent the next night within 24 hours."

The most important part of the weekend, however, may be something UF has no control over. At 8 p.m. on Sunday, ESPNU will announce the seeding for the 2007 national tournament. Currently at eighth in the RPI, UF stands a good chance to host the opening rounds of the tournament in Gainesville.

You better believe the players and coaches will be paying attention when the announcements are made.

"If we're on time, we will all be on a bus - a bus equipped with a satellite dish," Wise said. "You can guess which channel we'll be watching."

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