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Saturday, February 24, 2024

The Gators have dealt with more changes to the scoring rules than regular-season conference home losses under coach Mary Wise.

During her 19-year tenure at Florida, there have been three changes to the scoring format and only two such losses. But the adjustments to a match cannot be overlooked; they have transformed the strategy involved.

When Wise first arrived at UF in 1991, each set was scored up to 15, but a team could only score off a serve. In 2001, there was a monumental shift to sets that would end at 30 points and rally scoring - meaning a team could score even if it was not serving. Then, in 2008, the current scoring format was adopted, each set was lowered to 25 points and rally scoring was kept.

The only thing that stayed constant through the whole process was the fifth set, which has always been up to 15 points.

"If the match is shorter, does that give the underdog a better opportunity to beat a better team? I think that answer is yes," Wise said. "That's why you are seeing matches with wins and losses that you just would not see in the olden days."

The 30-point system privileged the favorite because it is harder for an underdog to maintain a lead in a longer set. Under that format in 2003, the Gators did not even drop one set against an Southeastern Conference opponent all season.

Now, an unforced error made by a team is magnified because of the length of a match.

"Errors are huge. Giving other teams points in such a short game, they're huge," junior setter Brynja Rodgers said. "They're not a fraction of the game anymore. They're a big chunk of the game."

Just this season, No.9 UF (12-3, 6-2 SEC) was pushed to five sets by Ole Miss (7-11, 1-7 SEC) because of 14 service errors that helped keep the Rebels in the match.

In the one-and-a-half seasons the new system has been in place, the underdog has been at an advantage. UF has already lost four conference matches and 23 total sets in conference play during that time.

"I think the 30 points kept the separation, but now at 25, one error is magnified," Wise said.

Last season, the first year under the new scoring system, the Gators did not clinch the SEC until the final conference match - the longest they have ever had to wait.

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This season, UF is already two matches behind conference leader Kentucky in the loss column.

The 25-point sets have helped increase the competition in the SEC, a conference the Gators have dominated for the last 18 years.

All that, coupled with the fact that the SEC switched to a double-round-robin scheduling format in 2006 (each team in the conference plays each other twice), has made it tough for UF.

Increased familiarity between conference teams and a scoring system made for upsets has diminished the gap between UF and the rest of the SEC.

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