The Gators volleyball team begins SEC play this weekend at home with two matches in three days. It will face Auburn at 7 p.m. on Friday and Georgia at 1 p.m. on Sunday. Here’s what to know about Florida’s next two opponents:
It finished last season’s conference slate with a dismal 5-13 record and was voted as the second-worst team in the SEC Preseason Coaches’ Poll. They had a lot of youth last season, and that remains the same this year.
Of the six players that have played the most sets for Auburn, only outside hitter Enija Bidzane is a senior, one of two on the team.
The youth of this team will be tasked with the monumental task of beating Florida, something that they have done just once in 44 attempts against UF coach Mary Wise. The 43rd defeat came last season when UF won 3-1 on the road. Florida outside hitter Paige Hammons tallied a career-high 17 kills in that match.
Auburn has gotten off to a decent start with a 6-5 record and a few wins over Power-5 opponents, including TCU, Michigan State and Miami. However, it has also lost to smaller schools like Tennessee State and New Mexico State.
Defensively, the Tigers are solid, as they have limited their opponents to a .174 hitting percentage. Junior Payton White does a lot of the legwork, averaging 4.2 digs per set.
The offense, however, has been toothless. The team is hitting .171, the worst in the conference. Bidzane leads the squad in kills per set with 2.86, but even she’s only hitting .191 this season. That creates a difficult matchup against a Florida team with plenty of weapons at its disposal.
The Bulldogs currently sit at 8-3 and are on a five-match winning streak ahead of a weekend road trip that ends in Gainesville on Sunday.
Coach Tom Black is in his third season in Athens trying to turn around a program that, before his arrival, hadn’t recorded a winning season in conference play since 2004. Georgia finished over .500 overall in his first two years as coach, something it hadn’t done since 2007-08.
Similar to Auburn, the Bulldogs are a young team, rostering only one senior, setter Meghan Donovan.
Unlike Auburn, however, Georgia boasts a much better offense, ranking 93rd in the country in hitting percentage (.246).
Outside hitters Rachel Ritchie and Kacie Evans have both eclipsed the 100-kill mark this season, and Ritchie leads the team in kills per set (3.23). This also creates an interesting matchup with Florida outside hitters Thayer Hall (3.68 kills per set) and Holly Carlton (2.44).
Georgia’s weaknesses lie more on the defensive side. The Bulldogs allow opponents to hit .206, the second-worst in the SEC. Georgia is also dead-last in the conference in blocks per set (1.74).
Against Florida’s offense, which ranks third in the conference in hitting percentage, the Bulldogs will need to tighten up defensively.
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Outside hitter Thayer Hall leads UF with 140 kills on the year.