UF notebook: Volleyball team on roll
Published: Tuesday, October 8, 2013 at 9:26 a.m.
Last Modified: Tuesday, October 8, 2013 at 9:26 a.m.
Just two weeks into the SEC season, only three volleyball teams remain unbeaten in league play.
Two of them will collide Friday in the O’Connell Center when Florida, up to No. 2 in the latest AVCA poll, hosts No. 15 Kentucky at 6:30 p.m. in a televised match on Fox Sports Florida.
Unbeaten, No. 25 Missouri (18-0, 3-0) is the other team without a league loss.
This will be the first true home weekend of SEC play for the Gators (15-1, 4-0), who have played three of their first four league matches on the road. Georgia comes calling Sunday at 2 p.m.
UF has won 10 straight matches, nine of them by sweep, including 3-0 whitewashes of Texas A&M at home Friday and on the road at Alabama on Sunday.
The Wildcats (12-3, 4-0) also are on a roll, having won seven in a row capped by home weekend sweeps of Ole Miss and Tennessee, while the Bulldogs (13-3, 3-1) are off to a great start as well.
“Kentucky is a very talented team with all of their major point producers from a year ago returning,” coach Mary Wise said. “Georgia made some great strides last year and is now building off of that, so it will be two good matches against two good teams.”
In related news, right-side hitter Alex Holston was named the SEC Freshman of the Week after registering a combined hitting mark of .567 with just one error in UF’s two weekend wins.
Eighth-ranked Florida ended its first two-game SEC losing streak in two years with a strong effort in defeating Auburn, 3-0, Sunday.
The Gators (9-3-1, 3-2) will try and build on that when they travel to play Mississippi State at 8 p.m. Friday in what will be UF’s only match this week.
“What we’re asking our players to do is a big challenge, because we’re asking them to be very physically tough on the defensive end, but then kind of flip the switch on offense and be able to be composed,” coach Becky Burleigh said. “That’s never easy, but that’s our goal, and that’s how we’ll be successful.”
The Bulldogs (3-9, 0-5) are in the midst of a five-game losing streak, but have a dangerous player in senior forward Elisabeth Sullivan, who is tied for the SEC lead in goals scored (12) with UF freshman Savannah Jordan.
Florida has not won in its last two trips to Starkville, losing 1-0 in 2011 and tying 1-1 (2 OT) in 2009.
The Gators have their only home event of the fall season as they host this year’s Bedford Cup, which begins Thursday and runs through Sunday at the Varsity Courts.
Athletes from 10 of the 11 NCAA Division I state programs (all but Miami) are scheduled to compete.
The individual singles and doubles event limits a team to using four players from its roster, with coach Roland Thornqvist electing to go with senior Olivia Janowicz and UF’s three freshmen in Kourtney Keegan from Roswell, Ga., and Australian natives Stefani Stojic and Belinda Woolcock.
“We’ll get a nice look at our players at home and hopefully we’ll get a little bit of a crowd over the weekend,” Thornqvist said. “We’re going through a stretch now where we’re playing almost every weekend. We had a good month of practice in September, and now we’re hoping to reap the rewards of that hard work.”
Second-year coach Bryan Shelton was encouraged by UF’s performance at the ITA All-American Championships in Tulsa, Okla., last week in which the doubles tandem of freshman Elliott Orkin and sophomore Gordon Watson reached the quarterfinals of the main draw, while senior Stephane Piro reached the consolation semifinals in singles.
“It’s one of our grand slams, so it’s a premier event in the fall,” Shelton said. “We had some guys go there and win quite a few matches.”
This weekend, UF competes at the ITA Southeast Regional in Atlanta.
“This is the time for our guys, especially our young guys of which we have quite a few, to start to gather an identity as to who they are as tennis players,” Shelton said.
Rhonda Faehn, the 2013 NCAA Coach of the Year who led the Gators to their first NCAA title, made a special appearance Monday and brought along a video clip of UF freshman Silvia Colussi-Pelaez completing a successful sideways aerial at the World Championships in Belgium Oct. 2.
While others have pulled off the high-risk move before, including former UF standout Corey Hartung, no one has done it on such a big stage. Colussi-Peleaz can now submit the skill to the Federation of International Gymnastics to be named after her.
“The way that an athlete gets a skill named after them, they have to perform it successfully at either a World Championship or the Olympics,” Faehn said. “So right there, that eliminates a lot of athletes who have tried the skill.”