A little over a year ago Florida’s volleyball players took the court at the O’Connell Center with a calm and humble demeanor in a Sunday afternoon matchup against the Kentucky Wildcats. They carried their undefeated record onto the floor with a solemn sense of duty.
But the Gators couldn’t keep up with a relentless Kentucky team that forced a loss in four sets.
“I said before, they’re a Final Four team,” Wise said following the defeat. “I think they can win it all.”
But Wise wasn’t too concerned with the blemish seeing how the contest lined up so early in the season. It marred the team’s perfect record, one that has still never been achieved at UF. The closest that Florida came to a spotless season was in 1996 when the team went 37-2.
The Gators got their revenge a few weeks later last year as they swept the Wildcats in Lexington.
Stepping back onto the hardwood at Memorial Coliseum could remind the Florida veterans of that feeling from last year as the No. 11 Gators take on the No. 12 Wildcats at 7 tonight.
Kentucky will put its undefeated conference record on the line at home against a younger Gators squad that has had to learn to deal with adversity without the presence of four 2017 All-Americans.
The Gators (19-4, 10-1 SEC) are without former middle blocker Rhamat Alhassan, who led both rosters with six blocks in last season’s first matchup, and former outside hitter Carli Snyder, who worked her way around the court registering an ace, 10 kills and eight digs.
The Wildcats (16-4, 10-0 SEC) find themselves in the same predicament. They’re without former middle blocker Kaz Brown — one of the leaders in kills during the first contest — and former outside hitter Darian Mack, who hit a season high 13 kills during last year’s first matchup.
In the Gators’ revenge game a few weeks later, Snyder racked up a team-high 15 kills, and right-side attacker and All-American Shainah Joseph logged 12 kills.
The absence of four All-Americans has been more noticeable than Dennis yelling random lines of literature in Turlington Plaza. But the Gators aren’t worried. This season’s theme is all about growth.
Florida tested out a different lineup in its Sunday afternoon contest against Mississippi State. The odds were in the Gators’ favor as the team swept the Bulldogs in Starkville.
The sister duo of Marlie and Allie Monserez typically takes the reins from the back of the court, controlling the offensive tempo. In Sunday’s matchup, however, sophomore transfer Holly Carlton helped run the offense as a setter and right-side pin hitter. The 6-foot-7 utility player normally plays in one rotation as the sole setter on the court, but she worked her way around all six rotations during the contest.
Florida’s look also altered without the presence of freshman outside hitter Thayer Hall, who leads the roster with 261 kills in 22 matches.
Instead, former outside hitter and current right-side attacker Mia Sokolowski took the reins on the left-side pin, logging two kills and three errors.
The Gators split the series with the Wildcats last season. Only playing each other once this season could easily set the tone for the SEC Championship.
Follow Mari Faiello on Twitter @faiello_mari or contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.