By Jim Harvin, Correspondent
There are just five regular-season matches left in Southeastern Conference play for the Florida volleyball team, starting with a pair of tough opponents at the Exactech Arena in the O’Connell Center this weekend.
The fourth-ranked Gators (20-1, 12-1) are tied with No. 7 Kentucky (21-3, 12-1) atop the SEC standings heading into today’s 7 p.m. contest against fifth-place Arkansas (17-8, 7-6), with third-place Missouri (17-9, 10-3) taking on UF on Senior Day Sunday at 1 p.m.
It’s a big weekend for the Gators, who have won six straight matches since being upset by Kentucky at home Oct. 15.
“As the season goes on, each match becomes more and more important and magnifies all that’s riding on it,” UF coach Mary Wise said. “Friday night we play against the leading point scorer in the league (Arkansas’ Pilar Victoria), a player who had quite the special performance the first time we played them, and she hasn’t done anything to slow down.
“Missouri is one of those teams that doesn’t ever seem to be affected by graduation. They’re always good, and it’s why they were such a great addition to the league.”
The Razorbacks almost upset then-unbeaten and No. 1 Florida in Fayetteville on Sept. 24 before UF won a tight fifth set, 15-13, to post a 3-2 win, and the Gators will have to take out the always-tough Tigers twice down the stretch, starting with Sunday’s showdown.
The two teams will meet again in the regular-season finale in Columbia on Nov. 25.
“I feel like we’ve been on the road for a very long time,” redshirt senior right-side hitter Shainah Joseph said. “It’s always nice to be back in the O’Dome and to see our regular friends, and this weekend is kind of special because its our senior weekend. A lot of our families are coming in, which is really nice, and that will be eventful and a little emotional.”
Florida’s last home weekend was Sept. 29-Oct. 1 when UF swept SEC foes Tennessee and LSU.
The Gators followed that up with a 3-1 midweek win over Texas A&M before closing out their four-match homestand with a 3-0 sweep of Georgia.
They then traveled to Ole Miss and posted a 3-0 sweep of the Rebels on Oct. 13, but returned home to face a fired-up Kentucky squad two days later and suffered their first, and only, loss of the season, 3-1.
UF has reeled off six straight wins since, dropping only one set in the process, highlighted by a 3-0 sweep of the Wildcats in Lexington Nov. 1.
“I think it’s pretty surreal that Senior Day is already here,” senior Lindsey Rogers said. “Four years have gone by so quickly, but we’re really excited just to get back in the O’Dome.”