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Monday, May 27, 2024

Although they’ve already played eight ranked opponents, the most important part of the Gators volleyball season is just getting started.

Everything prior to last Friday’s Southeastern Conference opener was just a learning experience for No. 3 Florida (9-1, 2-0 SEC), which will look to put those lessons to use when it takes on Mississippi (8-3, 2-0 SEC) Sunday at 1:30 p.m. in the O’Connell Center.

“We’ve always looked at the pre-conference matches as an opportunity to get better and prepare for the SEC,” coach Mary Wise said. “There are many things that were evident that we need to get better at, and when you play good teams that’s when you’ll see them exposed.”

Although Wise cited consistent sideout and transition play as areas that could use some improvement, she opted to give the players a hard-earned day off from practice Thursday.

The break was the team’s first since Sept. 13, as the Gators won road matches against No. 22 Kentucky, No. 18 Tennessee and No. 13 Florida State in a six-day stretch.

“I think the players physically and mentally were overdue for a day off from practice,” Wise said. “Hopefully they can get caught up academically and rest before we get back at it on Friday.”

Despite playing three consecutive road matches against ranked opponents for the first time in program history, the team never showed any signs of exhaustion.

In their third set against the Seminoles on Wednesday night—the 11th set of the road trip—the Gators were as sharp as ever, hitting .485 as a team.

“It was a hard fought and intense battle, but the players never looked fatigued,” Wise said. “And fatigue doesn’t always have to be physical because playing on the road can take a toll on you mentally.”

Sunday’s match begins a stretch of three straight at home for the Gators, which do not play another away contest until they travel to Alabama on Oct. 8.

Their next road match against a currently — ranked opponent is not until Nov. 21, when they take on LSU in the penultimate match of the regular season.

Still, the team knows that every match in the SEC can present a challenge.

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“There is absolutely no such thing as a run-of-the-mill match in the SEC,” Wise said. “Every single team in the league is capable of winning it because there are so many players on so many good teams.”

“Ole Miss has one of the most athletic teams they’ve ever had, and we know they’re going to play hard.”

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