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Thursday, March 30, 2023

As they look up in the conference standings, the Gators can't help but like the position they are in.

At the midway point of its conference schedule, No.10 Florida (14-3, 8-2 Southeastern Conference) finds itself with a favorable upcoming schedule. Now, just one match behind the conference lead, UF will play four out of the last six weekends of the season at home.

The Gators will start that stretch tonight as they take on Arkansas (10-11, 4-6 SEC) at 7 p.m. in the O'Connell Center before playing host to Ole Miss (8-12, 2-8 SEC) on Sunday.

After spening a lot of the time away from Gainesville early in the season, coach Mary Wise is optimistic about the team's situation.

"Five out of eight weekends on the road is not easy and to be at this point where we are with our record and our team's youth - I think we are in a real good place right now," Wise said.

After a much needed loss by SEC leader Kentucky on Wednesday, the Gators are just one match behind a familiar spot -- first place in the conference.

If UF wins both of its matches this weekend, it is guaranteed to gain a match on at least one of the two teams ahead of it in the SEC because Kentucky and LSU will face off in a pivotal conference battle Saturday.

If the upcoming schedule is of any indication, UF may be in the best position to win the conference.

The schedule sets up in the Gator's favor not only because of all the home matches remaining, but four out of the next six opponents will be teams that they have never lost to under Wise - Ole Miss, Alabama, Mississippi State and Auburn.

The lull in the schedule cannot come at a better time, junior opposite hitter Callie Rivers said.

"It's nice to have played a lot of our road games in the beginning, just to look forward to being at home in the end," Rivers said. "Especially at this point, when you get past the middle of the season when you are more tired."

But fatigue has not seemed to be a problem for the team as of late, if anything they have looked reenergized.

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After not outblocking an opponent in the first 10 matches of the season, the Gators have now blocked 25.5 more balls than their opponents in the last four matches.

"Our blocking was fairly anemic at the beginning of the season," Wise said. "The players have given a lot of effort and attention at improving and now we are reaping the benefits of us becoming a better blocking team."

But the Gators still have a long way to go if they want to reach their goal.

"This team, as much as we have improved, there is still a lot more room for improvement," Wise said. "It's encouraging because our goal is to play our best volleyball in December, and this team is far from peaking."

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