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Friday, March 01, 2024

For the second weekend in a row, the Southeastern Conference schedule will have the Gators away from Gainesville and in two different SEC cities in three days.

As a reward for two wins in its first away conference matches, No. 8 UF (10-1, 4-0 SEC) will continue its tour of the Southeastern United States, heading to Tuscaloosa, Ala., on Friday and Starkville, Miss., on Sunday.

"In one weekend, they have developed a road warrior attitude," UF coach Mary Wise said of her team.

In the SEC, that type of attitude is a prerequisite for the type of success the Gators have grown accustomed to.

The tough scheduling poses a challenge that teams in other conferences don't have to worry about.

The Big 12 plays its matches on Wednesdays and Saturdays, and very rarely is a team on the road for both. This makes it easier not only on the team, which gets a more balanced schedule, but also on those following their squad.

"That's a great way to build a fan base," Wise said.

With the Gators' two-week absence from the O'Connell center floor, Wise is afraid the team could lose some of the interest it had from fans after defeating rivals Georgia and LSU at home.

She did say she prefers the Friday-Sunday schedule to the Friday-Saturday slate implemented by the Big Ten Conference, because the day in between matches affords the Gators a full day of practice solely for the second opponent.

"We may complain about the Friday-Sunday, but it has helped us in the win-loss column," she said.

If the Gators are to stay in the win column again this weekend, it will be because veteran leadership and a rigid practice schedule got them there.

Senior middle blocker Kelsey Bowers said that it can be easy to get comfortable with being on a bus for three hours, and it is important that when it is time to play, the team is ready to go.

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"We have to keep focused on what we're doing and what our goals are," she said.

During the week, UF has its goals broken down to a very specific schedule.

On Tuesday, the team works only on their own game, trying to improve on any mistakes made in previous matches. Wednesday, the Gators' game plan for both of the upcoming teams on the schedule. Finally on Thursday, they focus solely on the next day's opponent.

Wise said the keys to last week's success were point production from multiple players and not giving away points to the other team.

The freshmen were able to contribute in a big way on their first conference road trip, led by a triple-double effort from setter Kelly Murphy.

Junior libero Elyse Cusack said playing well on the road is something that all good teams can do, and that having a lot of freshmen can take some of the pressure off in foreign environments.

"They're not so used to playing at home that it's hard for them to play on the road," Cusack said.

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