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Tuesday October 9, 2012 Gators pass test -- even if their passes were off -- with more on horizon

Gators volleyball

Photo: Florida's volleyball team wasn't as sharp as usual on Sunday but clawed back to defeat Kentucky.

GAINESVILLE, Fla. – Their touch was off. Their passes were missing the mark. The O’Connell Center scoreboard showed just how off the Gators were on Sunday when Kentucky won the first two sets.

The No. 11-ranked Gators’ nine-match win streak was in serious jeopardy even after the Gators scratched out a set to trim Kentucky’s lead to 2-1.

“That third set could have easily gone to Kentucky,’’ Florida volleyball coach Mary Wise said.

The fourth set was a little better as Florida won by the same score as in the third, 25-22.

The match came down to a fifth set. Finally, the Gators’ passing turned crisper. The scoreboard reflected the shift in momentum: Gators 15, Kentucky 8.

The comeback from the 2-0 deficit marked the first time Florida had to do that against a Wildcats team since 1986. The victory capped off a successful weekend for the Gators, who shut out Arkansas on Friday and remain undefeated in SEC play.

“I felt like this was going to be a huge test for us, and fortunately we passed it,’’ Wise said. “You could argue Sunday that we passed it by the skin of our teeth.”

They passed once their passing skills took over. While Wise said Monday that the Gators will work on their passing drills during practice this week, the Gators have passed everything thrown their way the past month.

Florida is 13-2 overall, 7-0 in the SEC as it starts to work on the second half of the schedule. The Gators have 14 regular-season matches remaining beginning Friday at home against Ole Miss. Auburn visits the O’Connell Center on Sunday.

Florida hasn’t lost since dropping back-to-back matches against Texas and Stanford at the Nike Big Four Classic. Since then they have won on the road (at Arkansas, Kentucky, South Carolina and Mississippi State) and all six matches at the O’Dome.

Freshmen outside hitters Gabby Mallette and Ziva Recek have made a difference and middle blocker Chloe Mann is having another stellar season. Wise credited the team’s blocking as playing a major role in Sunday’s comeback win over Kentucky.

“As the match went on, we just sort of hung in there,’’ Wise said. “If the offense isn’t quite on track, you can block balls for points. We were able to do that.”

Wise hopes the Gators don’t have to do it again soon. However, if they do, they at least know they can.

“The team can obviously draw on the experience,’’ Wise said. “What changes we can make so we’re not in that predicament again.”

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