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Thursday, February 02, 2023
<p><span id="docs-internal-guid-2fb79cfe-7fff-720a-2ae4-48cddb6400de"><span>Coach Mary Wise has led her team to a 5-2 season so far in 2019.</span></span></p>

Coach Mary Wise has led her team to a 5-2 season so far in 2019.

The No. 11 Gators volleyball team is fresh off a dominating sweep of in-state rival No. 23 Florida State. Florida hosts this weekend’s Gator Invitational, where it will play Liberty, Northern Arizona and Louisiana-Lafayette. Here are some things to know about UF’s competition this weekend:

Liberty

Game time: Friday at noon

Despite a slate of games that might not seem all that impressive, it won’t be as easy as it seems on the surface. Florida played on Tuesday, and because of a mandated day off from practice gave it only one day to prepare for three teams. 

Coach Mary Wise stressed that the Flames aren’t to be overlooked. 

“Ton of respect for them,” Wise said. “Their experience, they’re a very good serving team, they have size in the middle to block balls…very well-coached.”

Liberty (5-4) has already knocked off a pair of Power 5 opponents in Virginia Tech (3-1) and Virginia (3-0) and poses an interesting threat to UF. 

The Flames are led offensively by outside hitter Amelia Johnson. The 6-foot redshirt junior averages seven kills per set and leads the team in kills with 119. Middle blocker Anna Gragg, while she’s only been given 139 total attacks, converts at a high rate of .446. 

Standing at 6-foot-3, though, it’s going to be difficult for Gragg to match up with Florida’s middle blockers, 6-foot-8 Rachael Kramer and 6-foot-6 Lauren Dooley. 

Northern Arizona

Game time: Friday at 7 p.m.

The Lumberjacks (6-3) stunned the college volleyball world last season when they upset the then-No. 8 Gators for their first win over a ranked opponent in school history. 

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And there’s a chance they could do it again. 

Northern Arizona took then-No. 10 Michigan to five sets before losing and swept LSU last weekend. It has won four in a row and five of its last six matches. The Lumberjacks were also unanimous preseason favorites to repeat as Big Sky Conference champions.  

It all starts with senior Abby Akin. The senior middle blocker is second on the team in kills and has a hitting percentage of .418. She’s a major threat defensively, as she is 10th in the country in blocks per set with 1.67. 

Northern Arizona also has a pair of players with over 100 digs in defensive specialist Jasmine West (137) and outside hitter Sydney Lema (107). 

The Lumberjacks come into this matchup with hot hands. They swept the Lumberjack Invite and haven’t dropped a set since Sept. 7. 

Louisiana-Lafayette

Game time: Saturday at 3:30 p.m.

The Ragin’ Cajuns have offered their fans more rage than success on the volleyball court this season. 

Louisiana’s record is a middling 4-6, but its wins have come against schools like Eastern Michigan and Florida A&M. Twice this season the Ragin’ Cajuns have shown up to a tournament and not won a single set. 

Louisiana has fluctuated between the highs of two 20-win seasons in 2014 and 2017 and the lows of three single-digit win seasons since coach Heather Mazeitis-Fontenot took over in 2008. 

The Ragin’ Cajuns’ offense has been more offensive to the game of volleyball than to its opponents. 

No player has hit the 90-kill mark in 10 matches, though freshman right side hitter Celeste Darling has 83 kills. The team as a whole is hitting a woeful .167, which is 291st in the country. 

The Ragin’ Cajuns have been significantly better defensively, allowing a hitting percentage of .189, the 69th-best mark in the country. Even so, it still hasn’t been enough to prevent losses against better teams from piling up. 

Still, college volleyball offers enough parity that no opponent should be taken lightly, which is something that Wise pointed out. 

“Every single program has the talent that could be on anybody else’s roster,” said Wise. “There just isn’t a huge talent gap, and that’s why the equity across our sport is — honestly, I don’t know what other sport has the same.”

Follow Brendan Farrell @Bfarrell727. Contact him at bfarrell@alligator.org.

Coach Mary Wise has led her team to a 5-2 season so far in 2019.

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