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Monday, May 27, 2024

The flagship team of UF’s athletic program may be slipping, but across the street in the O’Connell Center, another squad has reached the pinnacle of its sport.

The Florida volleyball team is  No. 1 in the latest AVCA rankings. It’s the first time the Gators have been ranked as the best team in the country since Dec. 3, 1996.

“It’s so cool,” senior middleblocker Lauren Bledsoe said. “I haven’t had the chance to be ranked No. 1 since I’ve been here at Florida.”

The Gators (14-1, 7-0 Southeastern Conference) are 8-1 against ranked opponents this season. They were also ranked first in the RPI poll for the second consecutive week and have arguably the toughest schedule in the nation. UF’s only loss came Sept. 10 against then-No. 1, now-No. 9 Penn State.

Despite being excited about sitting atop the rankings, Bledsoe understands there is still a lot of volleyball left to be played.

“No one is at their best right now,” she said. “We still have a lot of things to get better on and a lot of things to perfect. I don’t think there’s any point where you’re good enough.”

Just past halfway through the regular season, the Gators are on top of the SEC standings by only one game. Defending champion No. 12 LSU is right behind them.

“This team understands in terms of where we are today isn’t where we want to be in the end,” coach Mary Wise said. “The goal hasn’t changed in trying to play our best volleyball at the end of the season.

“Complacency certainly hasn’t been a part of this team, nor will we let it. I don’t think Callie Rivers will let it.”

Wise said the team’s leadership, provided by seniors like Rivers, Bledsoe and Erin Fleming, has been the key for UF. And the veteran presence doesn’t end there, as nine of the 14 Gators to see action this season are upperclassmen.

“We benefit now because we are an experienced team,” Wise said. “Two years ago, when we were starting so many freshmen, it was really hard to draw parallels and raise expectations. Now we’re juniors and seniors.

“You hope every year that the seniors can bring their sense of urgency and that they can instill that on the younger players. That’s what’s happening with this 2010 class.”

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Another reason for the Gators’ success this season is the team’s chemistry. With every player on the team knowing their role, UF is doing everything it can to improve for December, when games matter most.

“There are players who don’t get much attention because they don’t get a lot of playing time,” Wise said.

These individuals make the best of it during intrasquad scrimmages, preparing the Gators for anything that comes their way.

“I’ve got to tell you, we’ve got one of the best scout teams going,” Wise said.

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