Gators resume volleyball season, starting at Ole Miss

J.M. Soracchi
Special to The Sun
Coach Mary Wise has Florida ranked No. 11 in the nation to open the spring portion of its 2020-21 schedule.

Trying to conform to a new normal has been a challenge in every meaning of the word for everyone. The University of Florida volleyball team has been no exception in trying to adapt.

The Gators end a two-month layoff from competing when they resume their SEC-only regular season Friday and Saturday at Ole Miss (0-6).

Florida, ranked No. 11 in the AVCA Coaches Poll, is 6-2 overall and in conference play and will play its 16 remaining matches over the next eight weeks.

With two matches each against eight opponents the Gators have yet to play, only two are currently ranked — No. 4 Kentucky and No. 17 Missouri.

Gators coach Mary Wise, in her 30th season helming the Florida volleyball program, said in a news conference Tuesday that her team is “light years” ahead of where they were when the season started in the fall.

There might not be such a thing as carrying over momentum from its last match — a 3-1 victory over Georgia on Nov. 21 — Wise said there were still valuable takeaways to be had.

“Well, we certainly use what we learned about our team and the changes we needed to make and the pieces of the game that needed to get better and use that to grow on,” Wise said.

The schedule will pose a unique situation for all the teams in the SEC, with back-to-back games against the same foe the norm in the 2020-21 season.

But Wise was quick to say it could turn out to be a positive come NCAA tournament time when a fast turnaround between games will be expected.

“For us to play, this is the schedule we need to play,” Wise said, “and in the NCAA tournament, you have to play back-to-back nights. So maybe this is in the long term, maybe it’s good for us to have to do this.”

Through the eight games the Gators have already played, redshirt junior T’ara Ceasar and junior Thayer Hall are leading the team in kills with 3.89 and 3.71 per set, respectively. Junior Marlie Monserez has 10.18 assists per set from her setter spot.

Defensively, junior Paula Cerame (3.43), freshman Elli McKissock (2.96) and Monserez (2.54) are pacing the team in digs per set while junior Lauren Dooley (1.54), freshman Nnedi Okammor (1.3) and redshirt senior Holly Carlton (1.08).

For the spring campaign, the Gators are also looking forward to getting some reinforcements in the middle. Darielle King, a redshirt senior middle blocker, returns from an ankle injury that limited her to just six of the 28 sets Florida played in 2020. The Orange and Blue also get Lauren Forte, a graduate transfer from Cal who was an All-Pac-12 Team selection in 2019.

UF holds a 52-3 record over Ole Miss, including 46-0 record under Wise.