Florida’s volleyball players usually say they take things one match at a time because their only focus is the next opponent.
But for the past two and a half weeks, they said they’ve been thinking about Kentucky.
They’ve been thinking about everything that went wrong in their Oct. 15 loss to the Wildcats, and they’ve made sure to work on those issues during their four-match win streak since the defeat.
Tonight at 7, they’ll get another shot. No. 4 Florida (18-1, 10-1 SEC) will be in Lexington to take on No. 6 Kentucky (19-2, 10-0 SEC) in a match that could determine this year’s SEC champion.
“We were so fortunate to have that experience in October so we can learn how we need to be playing in December,” senior Carli Snyder said. “We’ve been trying to clean up our right-side connection and it’s been tremendous these past few games.”
Senior Caroline Knop said that it’s important for the team to come into the game ready to compete at a high level and with the right mindset. If they can keep their composure and stay focused, Knop believes she and her teammates can win the match.
“We have got to come out swinging and absolutely throw punches early, often and we cannot stop,” Knop said.
Florida coach Mary Wise hopes her team’s defense will fare better against the Wildcats’ offensive attack this time around. When the two teams first met, Kentucky found its groove quickly, finishing the game with a hitting percentage of .309, easily the highest number allowed by Florida this season.
“What makes them so good is their ability to point-score from pin to pin,” Wise said. “They have two senior (middle blockers) that are elite, then their pin hitters are very, very efficient, high-flying, hard-hitting players.”
Coming into tonight’s match, Kentucky is ranked No. 4 in the country in team hitting percentage, while Florida’s defense ranks third in opponents’ hitting percentage.
Wise said it will be “quite the challenge” avoiding another offensive onslaught from the Wildcats.
“It’s going to take a complete, all-out team effort to try and slow it down,” she said.
Wise also recognizes what’s at stake tonight.
“The reality is there’s a lot riding on this match and we’re embracing that,” she said. “Our players are excited about it. They understand the challenge.”
Knop talked about the match’s implications as well.
Its winner can boost its odds to finish the season as SEC champions, and will also have a shot at starting the NCAA Tournament at home.
“I think that everybody is looking at it as an opportunity to grow as a volleyball team and as players,” Snyder said. “This is a match that prepares us for December. We really want to focus on this one.”
You can follow Andrew Huang on Twitter @AndrewJHuang, and contact him at [email protected].