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Thursday September 26, 2013No. 3 Gators Begin SEC Title Defense on the Road at Mississippi State and Ole Miss

Starkville, Miss.

The No. 3 Florida volleyball team begins the Southeastern Conference slate with a road trip to the Magnolia State, taking on Mississippi State and Ole Miss to open conference play. The Gators take on the Bulldogs at 8 p.m. ET Friday evening in Starkville before traveling to Oxford to face the Rebels at 2:30 p.m. ET Sunday afternoon.

 

Last Time Out: Florida went undefeated on the week, sweeping all three opponents. The Gators hosted No. 17 FSU at home and swept the Seminoles (25-20, 26-24, 25-23) Tuesday night. Chloe Mann and Živa Recek led Florida with 12 kills apiece, while Alex Holston hit an errorless .462 (6-0-13). The Gators then traveled to Milwaukee to compete in the Marquette Invitational. Florida swept both Marquette (25-21, 25-21, 25-13) and Wisconsin-Milwaukee (25-10, 25-15, 25-10) to capture the tournament title. Mann was named MVP after tallying 13 kills against the Golden Eagles and hitting an errorless .583 (7-0-12) against the Panthers. Taylor Brauneis dished out 69 combined assists and set the Gators to a .354 hitting percentage en route to the All-Tournament Team. Taylor Unroe averaged 4.67 digs/set and served up .50 aces/set to All-Tourney honors.

 

SEC Standout: Junior libero Taylor Unroe was named the SEC Defensive Player of the Week for her performances against No. 17 FSU, Marquette and Milwaukee. Against the Seminoles, Unroe was phenomenal behind the service line with 20 service attempts, the most of her career in a three-set match and tying for the third-most of her Gator tenure. The Gators scored 14 points on her serve against FSU. Unroe’s Freshman of the Week award in 2011 also came against the Noles. Unroe turned in fantastic performances at the Marquette Invitational, leading to her being named to the All-Tournament Team. Against Milwaukee, Unroe tallied 13 digs and served up three aces. Against Marquette, Unroe set the tone on defense with a match-high 15 digs. The Gator junior hasn’t registered a reception error in the last seven matches and is on a 22-match double-digit dig streak dating back to Florida’s five-set match vs. Tennessee (Nov. 4, 2012).

 

Bulldog to Watch: Freshman Kimmy Gardiner continued her strong rookie year with 50 kills in 12 games over the weekend, including a 27-kill performance against UAB Saturday morning. The 27 kills are the most by a Bulldog since Kaitlin Rance notched 27 against Auburn on Oct. 11, 2011.

 

Rebel to Watch: Sophomore middle blocker Nakeyta Clair has returned after a stellar freshman campaign for which she was named Freshman All-SEC. Clair is averaging 2.23 kills per set and 1.27 blocks per set so far this season and was recently named the Rebel Classic MVP.

 

All-Time: The Gators lead the all-time series against Mississippi State, having never dropped a match against the Bulldogs in program history. Against the Rebels, Florida is 42-3 all-time and an undefeated 36-0 under head coach Mary Wise.

 

Mary’s Minute: “In the three skills we ask of the libero position, serving, passing and digging, Taylor (Unroe)’s serve receive was her best skill coming to Florida. She tracks the ball well and has a really good touch on the ball. She sees the game so well. She came to us with the jump serve but it’s gotten faster as the years have gone on. We’re able to score points on her serve, whether it’s an ace or keeping the defense on their heels. Her volleyball IQ has progressed since arriving at Florida, but I think growing up in a volleyball community like Muncie gave her an edge coming in.”

 

Mary by the Numbers:

                At Florida: 697-81

                All-Time: 778-144

 

Records: Florida: 11-1, Mississippi State: 9-5, Ole Miss: 10-3

 

NCAA Numbers: Senior Chloe Mann is fourth in the NCAA in hitting percentage (.500), while the Gators are fourth in the nation with a .334 offensive clip. Senior setter Taylor Brauneis is 12th in assists (11.58/set) and 18th in aces (.52/set).

 

Defense Doing Work: The Florida defense had one of its best weekends of the year at the Active Ankle Challenge, as libero Taylor Unroe averaged 4.70 digs/set over the weekend. Sophomore Nikki O’Rourke made the most of her minutes, averaging 2.60 digs/set in just three rotations. Junior Holly Pole was right behind her, turning in a 2.50 dig/set average over the weekend. The Gators had five players in double-digit digs against Stanford, the first time since Florida’s five-set defeat to Tennessee last season (November 4, 2012). UF has a .968 reception percentage, their second-highest in the last five seasons.

 

Not On Our Watch: Florida has forced eight of its 12 opponents to operate at under .200 hitting efficiency, including three offensive outputs at .000 and below. The Gators held the Golden Eagles to a .146 hitting percentage Friday night before forcing the Panthers to hit .000 Saturday. It was Florida’s third match of the season with double-digit blocking numbers (12.0).

 

On The Horizon: Florida has a split weekend as the Gators return to the Stephen C. O’Connell Center to host Texas A&M on Friday, October 4 at 7 p.m. ET on Sun Sports. Florida then travels to Tuscaloosa to take on Alabama at 2:30 p.m. ET on Sunday, October 6.

 

Preseason Buzz: Florida was picked to win the Southeastern Conference title in a preseason vote of the league’s coaches, while senior middle blocker Chloe Mann and sophomore outside hitter Živa Recek were named Preseason All-SEC. Mann was also recently named a candidate for the Senior CLASS Award and is representing the Gators with a blog on ESPNW.

 

They’re Back: Florida returns 11 letterwinners and five starters from a year ago, including First Team All-American Mann, AVCA National Freshman of the Year Recek, AVCA Honorable Mention All-American setter Taylor Brauneis, 2011 SEC All-Freshman Team honoree Taylor Unroe and sophomore outside hitter Gabby Mallette.

 

Lights, Camera, Action: Florida will be on television 12 times during the course of the 2013 regular season, the most of any Southeastern Conference program. The Gators’ next televised match is Friday, October 4 at home against Texas A&M.

 

Follow the Gators: For all of the latest information on Florida volleyball, please visit GatorZone. For up-to-the-minute updates, follow Florida Volleyball (@GatorZoneVB) and Coach Mary Wise (@GatorMary) on Twitter. You can also find the Gators on Facebook.

 

Friday, September 27

8:00 P.M. ET         Florida at Mississippi State                Live Stats              Radio     Live Video

 

Saturday, September 29

2:30 P.M. ET         Florida at Ole Miss              Live Stats              Radio     Live Video

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