Undefeated No. 1-ranked Florida volleyball team embracing opportunity to thrive against opponents

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GAINESVILLE, Fla. —  After being named the No. 1 team in the country last week, the Florida women’s volleyball team knew that if it wasn’t already getting the best from every opponent it faced, it was going to now.

The Gators are undefeated, have four top-20 wins and look destined to make a deep run in the postseason if they keep up the pace they’re playing at throughout the season.

But with that high level of play comes the desire from the rest of the country to be the team to knock the Gators off their perch at the top of the standings.

Just how Florida wants it.

“We’d much rather have that challenge of a team pushing us back,” senior middle blocker Rhamat Alhassan said. “We don’t want to roll over teams. That doesn’t make anyone better.”

This weekend was just what the Gators needed, then.

While Florida swept both of its opponents — Tennessee on Friday and LSU on Sunday — the matches were anything but blowouts.

Tennessee used a deep roster and a flurry of mid-set substitutions to shake up their attack throughout the game, a plan that kept the Gators on their toes throughout all three sets.

As for LSU, the Tigers’ gritty back row kept a plethora of plays alive to force Florida to think quick on its feet. The Gators also had some self-inflicted pain, committing a season-high 11 service errors that killed momentum on a few of their rallies. Florida barely closed out the final two sets, winning by margins of 26-24 and 25-23 to get their seventh sweep of the year and improve to 11-0 on the season.

“We just don’t want to get through games, we want to thrive in them,” said senior Carli Snyder, who had a team-high 22 kills this weekend. “We don’t just want to know the scouting report, we want to thrive. We want to be really sure of what we’re doing. That’s something we are still working on now.”

Florida coach Mary Wise said her five-player senior class — the largest class of her tenure — has taken on the responsibility of finding ways to improve after every match.

It worked after the opening weekend, following top-5 wins against Texas and Nebraska. It worked after a trip to Puerto Rico to face ACC opponents N.C. State and North Carolina. And it worked last weekend after the Gators barely won a five-set road match against Arkansas to open conference play.

“The seniors still have that beginner’s mindset,” Wise said. “How can they get better? How can they improve their game? They have a whole lot of matches under their belt, but when your most experienced players are still trying to get better, that sends the right message.”

Now, Wise is hoping it will work again.

Florida has another pair of home matches this week, starting with Texas A&M on Wednesday and then Georgia on Sunday.

Two more home matches. Two more chances to remain undefeated. And two more chances for teams to find a way to sneak past the Gators and hand Florida its first loss.

Challenge accepted.

“We don’t think we’ve capped yet. We’re not done getting better,” Alhassan said. “Yeah, we’re ranked No. 1 now, but we want to be ranked No. 1 at the end of the season. That’s what really means something to us.”

Elsewhere in Florida athletics

  • The 10th-ranked Florida women’s soccer team improved to 9-2 on the season and 3-1 in SEC play with a 3-0 win at Georgia on Sunday. The match was scoreless at halftime before the Gators put up an offensive barrage in the second half. Junior Briana Solis, senior Cassie Owens and freshman Madi Alexander scored the goals. Junior goalkeeper Kaylan Marckese recorded her third clean sheet of the season. The Gators host Missouri on Thursday before traveling to Vanderbilt on Sunday.
  • The fifth-ranked Florida men’s golf team is tied for fifth after the first round of the Nike Golf Collegiate Invitational in Eugene, Ore., after firing off a 6-under 278 on Sunday. Freshman Chris Nido is pacing the team after 18 holes with a 4-under 67, which is good for a tie for seventh place in the 75-player field.

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