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Friday, May 24, 2024

Many things have changed since Mary Wise became Florida’s coach in 1991.

While the basic objectives of volleyball have remained the same, how the team trains for a season has become vastly different.

“When we first got here we were doing a watered-down version of what football was doing, and it wasn’t sport specific,” Wise said. “Players would come in, do it and get out. Now it’s devised for each individual athlete by position.”

The strength and conditioning program will come into play tonight as the No. 1 Gators (16-1, 9-0 Southeastern Conference) take on the No. 21 Volunteers (15-4, 7-3 SEC) in the O’Connell Center at 8 — just three days after defeating Georgia on Sunday. The match will be nationally televised on ESPNU.

It’s not the ideal length of time the team would like to prepare for its second meeting with Tennessee (UF won 3-1 (28-26, 25-23, 19-25, 25-17) on Sept. 19). But, physically, the Gators are ready.

“Strength training is a part of athletics — for injury prevention, for bettering performance,” Wise said. “We’ve been very fortunate in terms of our health and it’s all related to the job [Matt DeLancey] does.”

DeLancey, who is in his seventh season as the strength and conditioning coordinator for the Gators, designs a specific conditioning program for each player. Each of the players do single-leg jumps ACL prevention, arm strength and rotator cuff prevention to help prevent injury and strengthen those areas.

“Matt DeLancey is the most high energy person I’ve ever met in my life,” libero Erin Fleming said. “He’s really enthusiastic about the program; he’s tough and never gives us a break.

“We had a game Friday and Sunday and now a quick turnaround Wednesday against a really good Tennessee team. During the summer, he prepared us for this kind of quick turnaround so we’re not physically tired.”

Fleming will be busy against the Volunteers, which lead the SEC in hitting percentage.

The Gators will once again count on middle blockers Lauren Bledsoe and Cassandra Anderson to combat those two areas of the game.

In Knoxville, Tenn., Bledsoe recorded eight blocks as Anderson pitched in with five and a .556 hitting percentage.

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Both anchor a Florida team that leads the conference in blocks.

“Tennessee always plays its best volleyball in the second half of the SEC season and they have two of the premier offensive players in the league,” Wise said. “They’ve always played us well in the O’Connell Center.”

In the first meeting with Tennessee, the Gators held Nikki Fowler — third in the SEC in kills — to just eight kills on .097 hitting.

Setter Kelly Murphy will also play a large role in tonight’s match. Murphy, who was named the SEC Offensive Player of the Week for her performances last weekend, notched a triple-double with 19 kills, 25 assists, 14 digs and four blocks against Tennessee in September.

That performance earned her player of the week honors.

“We have a great opportunity for our program and the sport of women’s volleyball to play on a national stage with ESPNU,” Wise said. “It’s not something you can say no to.”

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