The Tennessee Volleyball team is back in action Thursday as it hosts the No. 8 Florida Gators in the Lady Vols’ second series of the spring season. Tennessee and Florida are both coming off postponed matches due to winter weather that affected much of the southeast last week.
“We've had more practice time than we are used to and there are some positives and negatives to that" said Coach Eve Rackham concerning the postponement. “We've had a ton of time to prepare for Florida and get better as a group.”
The Lady Vols (6-4) look to extend a four game win streak they continued in their last series by besting No. 16 Mizzou 3-2, 3-0. Leading the Lady Vols in this series was junior Lily Felts, who highlighted match one with 16 kills alongside Danielle Mahaffey with 15. In match two, Tennessee was led by sophomore Morghan Fingall, who recorded a season high 16 kills with a 42.9 hitting percentage, as well as Natalie Hayward who totaled 32 assists in the Lady Vols’ third sweep of the year.
Tennessee doesn’t get to rest on their laurels, however. The No. 8 Gators will prove Tennessee’s toughest opponent since the Lady Vols travelled to Lexington to take on Kentucky in their first series of the fall season. Florida is talented defensively, leading the SEC in blocks with 2.6 per set. On top of this, the Gators also boasts a .278 hitting percentage, second to only Kentucky in the SEC and 20th in the country.
The Gators are led by the junior duo of outside hitter T’ara Ceasar on offense and middle blocker Lauren Dooley on defense, as the two lead the team in kills and blocks, respectively. Junior outside hitter Thayer Hall and Ceasar combine for more than half the team’s kills (166, 146), while freshman libero Elli McKissock leads the team in digs with 136 at 3.58 per set.
“Our team is aware of Florida’s talent. They know they're a good team that have a lot of weapons,” said coach Rackham. “We don’t play a ton of teams that set the back row as much as Florida has been doing with Ceasar so I think that she’s one we are really going to have to key on.”
The Lady Vols have done well containing dominant outside hitters to start the spring season. Missouri’s All-SEC Kylie Deberg was held to just eight kills across three sets in the Lady Vols’ last match.
"They’re bigger then we are in terms of height, so us being disciplined in what we do in our system defensively will probably be one of the biggest keys,” concluded coach Rackham. “We got a lot of confidence last time we were in (Thompson-Boling Arena) playing against Missouri so I think our team is ready, prepared and excited to play somebody who they think is really good.”
First serve Thursday at Thompson-Boling arena is scheduled for 2 p.m. and is available to stream on SEC Network +, while Friday’s match will be televised on SEC Network at 1 p.m.