Volleyball completes early phases of gauntlet schedule

Riley Platt, Sports Editor

The record may not indicate it, but the University of North Florida (UNF) volleyball squad has put up a fight against many of the nation’s top programs in their first two weeks of action.

The opening weekend of the season began in a familiar setting for the Ospreys, Exactech Arena in Gainesville, Fla. The University of Florida hosted the Gators Invitational, where UNF played three matches. The first of these came against the Gators themselves, who were ranked 15th in the country.

The Ospreys came out swinging, taking the first set 25-20. This seemed to light a fire in the Florida camp, as the Gators responded with a narrow 25-23 win in the second set to even things up. With this, the momentum swung in favor of the orange and blue, with Florida easily taking the next two sets to win the match. 

While Friday didn’t yield the result they would have wanted, there was still work to be done as the Ospreys squared off against the Virginia Cavaliers on Saturday. UNF was swept in a trio of painfully-close set losses, dropping to 0-2 on the weekend. One positive takeaway from the match was UNF’s performance at the net, racking up twice as many blocks as the Cavaliers.

Volleyball is midair while a volleyball player prepares to hit it
The Ospreys began their 2022 slate by facing four Power Five programs in their first five matches. (Photo by Justin Nedrow)

The weekend wasn’t over, though, as the Ospreys had one final match on Saturday. After having to deal with programs out of the Southeastern Conference (SEC) and the Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC), UNF faced East Tennessee State (ETSU), a former Atlantic Sun foe. 

This match went much better for UNF, as they walked all over ETSU. The opening two sets were close, but the Ospreys ran away with a 25-12 win in the third to take the match win. The Ospreys may have suffered two tough losses, but they ended the weekend on a high note to pick up their first win of the season. 

The season’s second weekend saw the flock head south once again, this time to Orlando for the UCF Challenge. UNF’s first opponent was the Kansas State Wildcats of the Big 12, who they faced on Friday afternoon.

Volleyball player shouts with her hand in the air
Middle blocker Maddie Boyd leads the Osprey defensively, accounting for 15 blocks so far this season. (Photo by Justin Nedrow.)

Friday’s first set went to runover points, with the Wildcats just edging UNF 30-28 to take a 1-0 lead in the match. The second set produced yet another close win for Kansas State. Replicating struggles from the first weekend, the Ospreys let their opponent run away with the decisive set after competitive outings earlier in the match. 

UNF had one last chance to pick up a win on Saturday against the Syracuse Orange of the ACC, but this didn’t prove fruitful. The Orange squeaked out a 27-25 win in the first set and dominated the second, taking it by a score of 25-17. Things were going in the wrong direction, but the Ospreys fought back. This effort fell short, though, with a 25-23 Syracuse set win securing the match win.

UNF now sits at 1-4 after their first two weeks of play, but things are brighter than they may seem. If there’s one positive to take away from the opening five games, it’s the play of UC Davis transfer Mahalia White. The outside hitter has sprung to the top of the charts, leading the team with a jaw-dropping 77 kills so far. This is 38 more than the team’s next best. For a newcomer to come in and contribute to this extent is incredibly valuable to a team replacing many of last season’s familiar faces.

The volleyball team huddles up together
In her fifth season in charge of the program, head coach Kristen Wright is no stranger to overcoming adversity. (Photo by Justin Nedrow.)

Playing non-conference matches against bigger programs is not about boosting records and padding stats, though. These games, while they may result in losses, ultimately help squads improve in preparation for conference play, where record does matter. Head coach Kristen Wright is well aware of this.

“It’s all about seeing where you’re at and making changes,” Wright said. “It’s not about where you start, it’s where you finish.”

The Ospreys continue their season next weekend when they take to Birmingham, Ala., for the UAB Invitational. UNF will find itself outnumbered by in-state programs as they face Troy, UAB, and Auburn. The Ospreys are more than capable of coming away with wins. It’s just a matter of staying consistent and finishing sets out.


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