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Saturday, April 13, 2024

As they headed into the final weekend of the season in 2008 the Gators’ focus was on the conference championship, but this year things are different.

Florida did not clinch a share of the Southeastern Conference title until the second to last match of the season in 2008, but with the SEC title out of reach this year, the NCAA tournament is the only thing on UF's mind.

For the first time since non-conference play, No. 15 UF (21-5, 15-4 SEC) will play matches on back-to-back days as it hosts South Carolina (14-15, 6-14 SEC) at 4 p.m. Friday and No. 25 Notre Dame (21-5, 14-0 Big East) on Saturday.

The quick turnaround between matches is similar to the format that the Gators will face in the postseason, which is something coach Mary Wise wants the team to grow accustomed to for the tournament.

“It’s not an easy thing to do,” she said. “We would like to think this will help us for the following weekend.”

In their last match, Wise said the Gators played their best match of the season in a win on Kentucky’s home court. They will have a chance to build upon that effort in the final two matches of the year.

Wise’s decision to switch out senior middle blocker Kristina Johnson for junior Lauren Bledsoe provided some much needed offensive help for UF.

Also, the addition of Bledsoe’s powerful serve to an already hard-serving group was important because they were able to keep the Wildcats out of their offensive system.

“We said a few weeks ago that we thought our best volleyball was ahead of us,” Wise said. “I think against Kentucky the players had a taste of it, it tasted pretty good.”

But the weekend will be bitter-sweet for the team as UF will recognize seniors Johnson and libero Elyse Cusack before Saturday’s match against Notre Dame.

Cusack named SEC Defensive Player of the Week: The senior libero was named the conference’s defensive player of the week for the third time this season on Monday.

She notched a season-high 33 digs against Kentucky on Sunday and moved into second-place on the SEC’s all-time digs list with 2,055 in her Gator career.

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