Heading into their third SEC matchup of the season, the No. 12 Gators (11-2, 2-0 SEC) will make their conference road debut against the 15th-ranked Wildcats on Sunday afternoon in Lexington, Kentucky.
All of Florida’s roster, with the exception of two transfers, remembers what it felt like leaving Memorial Coliseum with a sweep loss to the then-12th-ranked team in the nation last season.
But it’s a new campaign and a new team.
What happened last year doesn’t matter now.
“Experience will help, but you can’t rely solely on it,” coach Mary Wise said. “The team that makes plays (will win).”
And experience does carry a bit of an edge. Kentucky’s roster returns all but four players to the matchup this season. There’s not a whole lot it’ll have to adjust to, carrying a veterans-heavy squad just like Florida.
“They (Kentucky) got it going right now and they play really well at home,” Wise said.
And the coach is right.
Senior outside hitter Leah Edmond has been a force for the Wildcats (9-4, 2-0 SEC) all season. She leads her team in kills with 179 on the season, 10 kills ahead of Florida leader and sophomore outside hitter Thayer Hall.
Kentucky is also very good at staying in-system, pushing its passes to the net so its setter has three options to run the offense. It’s one of the reasons why graduate student middle blocker Leah Meyer has been one of the most productive attackers for Kentucky, notching 112 kills so far on the season.
Florida should stay optimistic, though.
Through its first 13 games, seven matches have finished in sweep wins (a streak of five 3-0 wins ended with Florida’s 3-1 win over Georgia).
A tough Kentucky offense — with lots of arms, as Wise likes to say — could be a rough matchup for Florida if it doesn’t stay with the game point-for-\point. Inconsistencies and mistakes could easily start a negative trend for the Gators, forcing them to get on hot streaks and putting them in holes they’ve been climbing out of all season.
Maybe a grinding Wildcats offense is just what Florida needs right now, though. Maybe it helps them get more settled into who it is as a team and the kind of competitiveness it can bring to this heavy SEC conference.
“You’re just trying to maintain your competitiveness within the league race, but more importantly, is your team getting better?,” Wise said. “It’s not in September or October when you want to play your best volleyball. You want that in December.
“Any team playing them (Kentucky) knows they have a great challenge ahead.”
Follow Mari Faiello on Twitter @faiello_mari. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Sophomore Thayer Hall will go head-to-head against fellow outside hitter Leah Edmond, who leads Kentucky in kills (179).