The Gators volleyball team continues to roll in SEC play.
No. 11 Florida (20-3, 11-1 SEC) has been a machine against conference foes, winning its last nine matches. The Gators have dropped just 11 sets in their 12 conference matches and have swept six opponents.
Florida took a road trip to Mississippi last weekend and came out with two victories against Ole Miss and Mississippi State. Here are three takeaways:
Both good and ugly against Ole Miss
The Gators’ play against Ole Miss on Friday night wasn’t their best. Needing five sets to beat a middle-of-the-road Rebels squad isn’t a good look, even on the road.
Florida’s offense struggled all night. Aside from a .244 showing in the first set, the Gators struggled to hit above .200 until they exploded in the shortened fifth set.
Most of the Gators’ struggles boiled down to errors. Florida committed 33 errors and 6.6 per set, both season highs. In the third set alone, the Gators had 10 errors, four more than Ole Miss in a set decided by four points.
Florida is unlikely to hit that badly very often, but it is concerning given Ole Miss ranks fourth in the conference in opponent hitting percentage. The Gators will face stiffer defenses in a potential postseason run, and another performance like that would likely mean an early exit.
Defensively, though, UF was solid.
After a rough first set where it allowed Ole Miss to hit over .400, Florida’s defense, which is second in the conference in opponent hitting percentage and first in blocks per set, stifled the Rebels. Ole Miss had a negative hitting percentage in two of the next four sets and finished at .109 overall. That was the lowest figure a team hit against Florida since Oct. 11, when Arkansas hit .097.
The Gators also amassed a season-high 17 blocks. Redshirt junior Holly Carlton led the team with seven.
Taking the bite out of the Bulldogs
After escaping the Ole Miss match with a win, the Gators’ road trip through Mississippi stopped in Starkville against a dismal Mississippi State team with just two wins in conference play.
Florida dominated from start to finish against the Bulldogs in an easy 3-0 sweep. The offense returned to form, and its .402 hitting percentage on Sunday was its second-highest mark this season. The Gators’ tandem of senior Rachael Kramer and sophomore Lauren Dooley at middle blocker combined for 18 kills and only one error on 24 swings.
Simply put, this was the match that Florida needed after a bizarre match against Ole Miss. The Gators’ performance against Mississippi State was exactly what you would expect out of a top-15 squad against a conference cellar dweller. Other than a tight third set, Florida was in control.
Tougher challenges on the horizon
Currently, the Gators are in a good spot.
They’re ranked No. 11 in the country, sixth in RPI and sit atop the SEC standings. They have a major opportunity to improve those first two things and maintain the latter this weekend with matches against LSU and No. 17 Kentucky at home.
Florida swept LSU on the road earlier this season, but the Tigers could still be a threat. Its star right side hitter, junior Taylor Bannister, is one of the best in the conference and punished the Gators for 20 kills in that match. The Tigers also just beat then-No. 25 Texas A&M.
But the bigger match lies on Sunday, when Florida faces Kentucky for SEC supremacy. The Wildcats edged Florida in five sets at home. It also could be UF’s last chance to beat a team in the current top 25, something it still hasn’t done this season.
Follow Brendan Farrell on Twitter @Bfarrell727. Contact him at [email protected]