Gators volleyball set for two-game series against South Carolina

Before traveling to take part in a massive top-10 clash with the No. 8 Kentucky Wildcats next week, the No. 20 Florida Gators (18-6, 12-2) need to mind their business during their last two home games.

In a back-to-back series, Florida will host the only team to beat the Wildcats in conference: the South Carolina Gamecocks (14-11, 6-9).

The games come just days after Florida dismantled the Auburn Tigers, beating visitors Alabama in a quick three-set sweep. While Sunday’s game will stir up additional excitement as the Gators celebrate senior day, both games are an opportunity for head coach Mary Wise’s team to do one final polish before a trip to Lexington, Kentucky.

Senior redshirt T’ara Caesar enters the games as the reigning SEC Offensive Player of the Week once again. While she jumped to .346 against Arkansas on Nov. 13, Caesar didn’t put on her best performance against Auburn, hitting just .226. The rest of the team picked up the charge against the Tigers.

Senior Thayer Hall ranked second on the team behind Caesar in kills, posting 11 on a more effective .455 percentage, and fellow senior Lauren Forte was right behind with 10 kills on .667 hits.

Caesar posted his lowest kill total since Oct. 20, but the Gators still forced a sweep; as the playoffs approach, it’s a promising sign for the depth of this Florida team.

The visiting Gamecocks will come to town this weekend with renewed momentum after an average season.

Head coach Tom Mendoza’s team drowned early in the conference game, going 1-7 before their double against Kentucky. South Carolina, however, stole a game against the defending national champions and followed with a road sweep of Auburn. Now that the Gamecocks have won two of their last three games, the Gators may have to look at this game with more trepidation than they initially thought.

Coach Wise made the team’s goal very clear.

“We won’t expend any energy next weekend or beyond,” Wise said after the game against Auburn. “It’s all about South Carolina this weekend.”

Graduate student Kyla Manning and sophomore Riley Whitesides are the two Gamecocks Florida will need to control; the duo were the only two to finish with double-digit wins in the wins over Auburn and the win at Kentucky.

No other Garnet player has posted double-digit wins since USC’s Oct. 29 game against Ole Miss, so the goal for the Gators seems clear — stop Manning and Whitesides.

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As players try to focus on what’s to come in Sunday’s return game, it’ll be hard to ignore the Seniors’ Day festivities as this year’s Florida squad features five seniors. Four of the winners start; stars such as Caesar and Hall playing their final matches at the O’Dome will be a poignant moment for players and fans alike.

With games of greater significance on the horizon, two games against an SEC foe will be an ideal start for an elite class of Gators.

Saturday’s game kicks off at 4pm at the O’Dome and can be watched on SEC Network+. Sunday’s game will air on the SEC Network and begin at 2 p.m.

Contact Carson Cashion at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @carsoncashion.

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