It?s tough staying dominant today?s collegiate volleyball landscape. Similar to basketball, teams struggle when multiple starters graduate. Some struggle on the road. Some struggle due to a lack of experience. The Gators, however, haven?t seemed to encounter much of these difficulties 20 games into the season.
Like its in-state rival, Florida State, Florida is off to a scorching start in conference play and is showing no signs of slowing down. The Gators (17-3) are 8-0 in Southeastern Conference play, have won 13 straight games and rank 11th in the AVCA Coaches Poll. Once again, they look primed for another deep NCAA Tournament run following last year?s runner-up finish.
Florida?s season hasn?t been all sunshine and roses, though. It opened the season with three straight games against ranked opponents in defending national champion Nebraska, Texas and Southern California, going 1-2. The team?s worst loss? A five-setter to Northern Arizona. It was NAU?s first ever win against a nationally-ranked opponent and the Big Sky Conference?s first since 2006. Powerhouse programs like Florida don?t usually lose to teams like Northern Arizona.
The 4-3 start for the Gators was arguably the worst in head coach Mary Wise?s era. Florida hasn?t began a season 4-3 or worse since 1988, when the team lost its first five games then finished 23-14 under coach Marilyn McReavy, but fans have little to worry about in 2018. Wise has restocked and reloaded the team after losing a first-team AVCA all-american in Rhamat Alhassan and second-team all-american in outside hitter Carli Snyder. Alhassan was one of the best middle blockers in program history and Snyder led the team in kills last year.
Freshman Thayer Hall has helped fill Snyder?s hole nicely, though. Despite being one of the youngest on the court in any given match, the outside hitter leads the team with 238 kills. The Spartanburg, South Carolina, native was the 2017-18 Gatorade National Player of the Year and Prepvolleyball.com said her impact could potentially help win multiple national championships during her time at Florida.
And Rachael Kramer, a 6-foot-8 junior middle blocker that played alongside Alhassan her first two years, leads the team with 99 total blocks. Kramer has simply too much length and leverage when UF can get her the ball. Clearly they should do so more often.
Wise?s club will continue to jell as SEC play continues. The Gators in all likelihood will win the SEC. Florida is, after all, an astonishing 430-26 under Wise in SEC matches. That comes out to a .943 winning percentage.
The Gators will look to continue bulldozing through SEC play when they take on Ole Miss Friday night in Oxford. The Rebels are 1-6 in conference play, and Florida is a staggering 44-0 versus them under Wise.