Coach Rob Patrick on the success of Lady Vols volleyball this season
It wouldn't be a stretch to say the SEC volleyball championship goes through Gainesville, Fla.
Florida has won a league-record 19 titles with LSU in 2009 the only other team besides the Gators to win an SEC championship in the last 20 seasons.
However, if Tennessee can pull off a series sweep of the Gators, all roads will lead through Knoxville.
The No. 20 Lady Vols (18-3, 11-1 SEC) play host to No. 13 Florida (17-3, 10-1) at Thompson-Boling Arena tonight with an SEC title likely hanging in the balance despite seven more league matches to be played. Match time is 7 p.m.
The Lady Vols accomplished what few teams have been able to do on Sept. 25. That's win at the Stephen C. O'Connell Center. And it wasn't easy as indicated by the five-set thriller: 25-21, 20-25, 25-21, 19-25, 18-16.
Florida has bounced back, winning eight consecutive matches.
"Florida is a great team," Lady Vols coach Rob Patrick said Monday. "They do one of the hardest things in sports, and that is to play at a very, very high level consistently for many years. So they are a team that is very physical. Their number one recruiting class that they had four years ago are now all seniors. I think they start four seniors on their team. Right away we are under the eight ball. They have more experience than we do. They've had players that have played 100-110 matches in their career. Most of my team has played 18 or 20 matches in their career. It is not so much about person for person and we are just going to go up there and beat them. It is going to be about us grinding out every point."
It's not like the Lady Vols have never swept Florida. The feat was last accomplished in 2004, when UT tied with Florida for the SEC title and first since 1984.
However, UT has little success against Florida in the overall series with 11 wins in 54 matches and only five wins since 1999.
But the driver's seat in the SEC will be as big as a Cadillac for the Lady Vols with a sweep tonight.
"We're averaging over 14 kills a game and holding our opponents to 11," said Patrick. "We are able to hit at a pretty high percentage as we are second in the conference in hitting percentage. We have the numbers that are allowing us to be in the driver's seat right now."
Notebook: UT sophomore Kelsey Robinson has been in double figures for kills and digs for an SEC-best 16th consecutive matches. ... UT is asking fans to "Orange out the Gators" and lowered tickets to $1.
Phil Kaplan is sports editor. He may be reached at 865-342-6285. Follow him at http://twitter.com/philkaplan