Lauren Dooley

Lauren Dooley.

Gators volleyball returns home to face unranked South Carolina on Wednesday. No. 13 Florida is coming off a successful weekend where it swept Arkansas on Friday and rallied in a five-set match to defeat Texas A&M on Sunday. 

The Gamecocks (11-7, 3-3 SEC) come into Gainesville after an odd start to SEC play. 

Here are three things to know ahead of this match:

The Gamecocks haven’t won a set against a ranked opponent

South Carolina has played against three ranked teams: then-No. 12 Pittsburgh (now No. 3), then-No. 9 Wisconsin (now No. 6) and then-No. 15 Kentucky (now No. 16). 

And it has been swept in all three matches. 

The Gamecocks have done well against the likes of Charlotte, Kennesaw State and Albany but have struggled against much better competition. In their three matches against ranked opponents, they haven’t hit above .170. Defensively, they were a sieve, allowing each opponent to hit over .300. 

Defense has been an issue for South Carolina all season, as it sits outside of the top-130 teams in opponent hitting percentage. Wednesday presents an opportunity for star outside hitter Thayer Hall to break out of her slump. Hall has hit below .200 in her last three matches. 

Lauren Dooley: SEC Defensive Player of the Week

Sophomore middle blocker Lauren Dooley has been a revelation for the Gators this season.

Dooley was named SEC Defensive Player of the Week for her performances against Arkansas and Texas A&M. She had a combined 17 blocks in the two matches, and her 1.28 blocks per set this season are second in the SEC.

Dooley was expected to sit behind senior Rachael Kramer and redshirt junior Darrielle King this season. However, once Kramer was injured early in the season, Dooley was trusted with a lot more playing time. 

A 14-kill performance to rescue the Gators in a dramatic five-set victory against Long Beach State quickly showed that Dooley belonged as a regular contributor. 

Since then, she has replaced King in the rotation and has received significant playing time since Kramer’s return. 

“She has progressed so much this season and just fully embraced her role,” Hall said. “It’s just been really cool to see her succeed and smile on the court.”

South Carolina players to watch for

For the Gamecocks, it’s been all about the offense this season. Specifically, opposite hitter Mikayla Shields. Shields was voted onto the preseason All-SEC team, and she has shown why.

She totals over three kills per set, and she hits at a solid .291 rate. The senior also gets a lot of service from setter Courtney Koehler, as Shields has already had over 500 attacks this season. 

Outside of her, the Gamecocks also have two other solid options offensively in middle blockers Mikayla Robinson and Claire Edwards. Shields, Robinson and Edwards were all in the top 15 players in the SEC according to hitting points above average per match ahead of last weekend’s matches. 

However, the relatively small heights of Robinson and Edwards (both are 6-foot-2) could create some interesting mismatches against Florida’s 6-foot-8 Kramer and the 6-foot-6 Dooley. 

Follow Brendan Farrell on Twitter @Bfarrell727. Contact him at [email protected]