Before travelling to compete in a massive, top-10 matchup with the No. 8 Kentucky Wildcats next week, the No. 20 Florida Gators (18-6, 12-2) need to take care of business in their last two matches at home.
In a back-to-back series, Florida will host the only team that has beat the Wildcats in conference play: the South Carolina Gamecocks (14-11, 6-9).
The matches come just days after Florida’s dismantling of the Auburn Tigers, defeating the Alabama visitors in a quick three-set sweep. While Sunday’s match will draw out some extra emotion as the Gators celebrate senior day, both matches serve as opportunities for head coach Mary Wise’s team to do some final polishing before a trip to Lexington, Kentucky.
Redshirt senior T’ara Ceasar enters the matches as the reigning SEC Offensive Player of the Week once again. While she jumped to .346 against Arkansas on Nov. 13, Ceasar did not have her best performance against Auburn, hitting just .226. The rest of the team picked up the load against the Tigers.
Senior Thayer Hall ranked second on the team behind Ceasar in kills, posting 11 on a more efficient .455 percentage, and fellow senior Lauren Forte was right behind with 10 kills on .667 hitting.
Ceasar posted her lowest kill total since Oct. 20, but the Gators still forced a sweep; as postseason draws nearer, that is a promising sign for the depth of this Florida team.
The visiting Gamecocks will come to town this weekend with some newfound momentum after a middling season.
Head coach Tom Mendoza’s team drowned early in conference play, going 1-7 before its doubleheader against Kentucky. South Carolina, stole a match against the defending national champions, however, and followed that with a sweep of Auburn on the road. Now, with the Gamecocks winning two of their last three, the Gators may need to look at this matchup with more concern than they initially thought.
Coach Wise made the team’s focus crystal clear.
“We’re not spending any energy on next weekend or beyond,” Wise said after the match against Auburn. “It’s all about South Carolina this weekend.”
Graduate student Kyla Manning and sophomore Riley Whitesides are the two Gamecocks Florida will need to control; the duo were the only two to finish with double-digit kills in both the wins over Auburn and the Kentucky victory.
No other player in garnet has recorded double-digit kills since USC’s Oct. 29 match against Ole Miss, so the objective for the Gators seems clear — stop Manning and Whitesides.
While the players will try to focus on the match at hand during the second leg of the series on Sunday, it will be hard to ignore the senior day festivities, as this year’s Florida squad features five seniors. Four of the honorees start; stars such as Ceasar and Hall playing in their last games at the O’Dome will be a poignant moment for players and fans alike.
With games of larger significance on the horizon, two matches against an SEC foe will be an ideal send-off for an elite class of Gators.
The match on Saturday will begin at 4 p.m. in the O’Dome and can be watched on SEC Network+. Sunday’s match will be aired on the SEC Network and will begin at 2 p.m.
Contact Carson Cashion at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @carsoncashion.