Volleyball takes on No. 12 Florida in Gainesville

Abby McCreary, Staff Reporter

On Wednesday night, Alabama volleyball faces off against one of the best teams in the nation to begin conference play.  

Under head coach Mary Wise, the No. 12 Florida Gators (8-2) have appeared in 31 NCAA tournaments in her 31 years at the helm. They lead the SEC in opponent hitting percentage and blocks. Most importantly, they just knocked the No. 4 Wisconsin Badgers to No. 6 after beating them in five sets in Madison, Wisconsin, in front of a record-breaking crowd. 

So, what does Alabama (6-6) bring to the table? 

One of the top serving teams in the nation. Hope sprung from a one-game winning streak. And the incredible potential of being an underdog. 

Alabama’s service game 

All season, head coach Rashinda Reed has been preaching the potential of a powerful serving team. Alabama’s 100 aces far outnumber any other SEC team’s, outshine a conference-high number of errors and earn them the sixth most service aces in the NCAA.  

“Being aggressive no matter what is something they’ve been preaching to us,” libero Victoria Schmer said. “Volleyball is a game of serve and pass, and if you can win that game, you’ll be very successful.” 

Individually, outside hitter Abby Marjama is No. 3 in the nation with 30 aces. If her serves land and the rest of the Crimson Tide continue to serve aggressively, Alabama is a tough team to contend with. 

Libero Sydney Gholson said she wants to be someone her teammates can trust to be aggressive and reliable from behind the service line. 

“I just want to be able to do my part,” Gholson said. “[I want to] do my job out on the court and be a trustworthy teammate out on the court and just do whatever I can in any way possible.” 

The beginnings of a hopeful comeback 

Although the Crimson Tide went 1-2 in their latest weekend tournament in Fort Worth, Texas, their win came on the last day and could be a sign of a hopeful rebound.  

After having 35 unforced errors in their match against TCU on Friday night, Alabama cleaned up its game on Saturday to have only eight, contributing to a three-set victory over Texas State. 

Middle blocker Alyiah Wells said that having a well-rounded team was key to their weekend comeback. 

“As far as leadership roles in general, we have a lot of people on our team who step up in different moments and are leaders,” Wells said. “It’s equally distributed among all of us, so no one feels that pressure to keep the team together in high moments and in low moments.”  

At the TCU tournament, Alabama bounced back from their lowest hitting percentage of the season, .036, to earn their highest, .396. Florida currently ranks seventh in the nation for lowest opponent hitting percentage at .133, so Alabama needs to carry as much momentum from their Texas State win into their Florida match as possible.  

The underdogs 

Without a doubt, the Crimson Tide are going into Gainesville as the underdogs. They haven’t been nationally ranked since 2018 and haven’t beaten a nationally ranked team since Texas A&M in 2016. They haven’t beaten Florida since 1978, and the Gators’ only two losses of the season come from ranked teams, No. 5 Stanford and No. 8 Minnesota.  

For Wells, she says setting small goals instead of having huge ones helps.  

“Giving myself a small goal means I don’t have to try and score so many times,” Wells said. “Each time I come into the game — I just want to make an impact.” 

Chipping away at the Florida defense will be key to success on Wednesday night. Throughout non-conference play, Reed has driven home the idea that it’s a team effort to do whatever needs to be done to win a match.  

“My goal is just to continue helping the team however I can,” Gholson said. “Wherever they need me on the court, whether it’s outside, right side, whatever.” 

Alabama players clearly have the mindset to take on Florida on Wednesday. They might not have the record or the history, but Schmer says it doesn’t matter. 

“I’m looking forward to showing the world what Alabama volleyball really is and showing them that our history doesn’t define us,” Schmer said. “The past two seasons don’t define us. We’ve learned new things and gotten better.” 

The Sept. 21 match in Gainesville starts at 6 p.m. CT on ESPN+.

Questions or comments? Email Austin Hannon (Sports Editor) at [email protected]