Eyes on an SEC title

The place will be packed, standing room only. Students will be there in full force, dressed in red and blue or Halloween gear. Ole Miss is playing No. 1.

Tailgating is encouraged and will start early. The competition between the two teams will be fierce and intense. The venue will be loud, the action non-stop, and the players and coaches will be giving it everything they've got to win.

Football? Everybody knows about the big game on Saturday in Vaught-Hemingway. Tonight, however, there's another Ole Miss team playing a top-ranked team on campus as well.

The Ole Miss volleyball team, currently in second place overall in the Southeastern Conference and first in the West, hosts No. 1 ranked and SEC leader Florida at 7 p.m. today in the Gillom Center.

The Rebels are 16-5 overall and 10-2 in SEC play. Florida is 19-1 and 12-0. The Gators beat the Rebels in Gainesville earlier this season. Ole Miss and LSU are both 10-2 in league play, but the Rebels defeated the Tigers two weeks ago.

"They're playing very well, a very talented team," said Ole Miss head coach Joe Getzin of the Gators, who has his own team on course for a third NCAA Tournament bid in the last five seasons.

Getzin likes the fact that the Rebels are hosting this one.

"Florida is a lot more comfortable at home than they are in a small environment like this," he said, mentioning the Gators play in the O'Connell Center, where Florida basketball games are played. "We're looking forward to seeing what we can do against the No. 1 team at home."

Regina Thomas

Ole Miss moved its volleyball contests from Tad Smith Coliseum to the more intimate setting at the Gillom Center more than a decade ago. The place is listed as 1,000 capacity, and admission is free to games. Friday's game is Greek Night, and fraternities and sororities are encouraged to attend as a group and root for the Rebels.

Getzin said a supportive home crowd can make a difference and already has this season.

"It helps tremendously," he said. "Just the noise factor, knowing the support they have, the girls really respond well to it. The bigger thing is we are used to playing in such a smaller venue than Florida, and I do think that will make them uncomfortable. I know teams don't like coming here. That just plays in our favor."

"It helps so much and helps us keep our excitement and energy levels up," said junior Regina Thomas. "People who don't usually come to watch volleyball here, when they come to one game, they're hooked. The crowd really helps us, and we look forward to them being here again."

Getzin said his team is not only talented but has been playing well together, which has been a key to their success.

"The chemistry on our team is very good right now," he said. "I think we've gotten to a point that the kids really trust each other. That was evident last weekend (at Mississippi State and at Alabama) where we were down and made big pushes to come back.

"We've had some great leadership," Getzin continued. "I think it started last year when we were 10-20, and the kids said we're not going to do that anymore. They had a great spring and worked really hard over the summer. The upperclass leadership has been huge, and the young kids have jumped in and followed suit."

Sophomore Amanda Philpot agrees with her coach that this team has met its challenges together.

"We're obviously having a really good season. I think the key has been our defense," she said. "We've really been working on that to frustrate teams defensively. We have great team chemistry, and everyone gets along really well on and off the court. That helps us a lot."

Getzin believes if the Rebels play their own game and let Florida get caught up in the atmosphere and situation at hand, then Ole Miss can come out on top.

"It's all about our side of the net for us," he said. "Florida does some amazing things, and we can't get frustrated when they do that. We just have to come back at them."

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