VOLLEYBALL BLOG: Jenell Larsen edition (9/6)
It’s nice to finally unwind on a Monday off after our week spent traveling and competing on opponent territories.

A lack of focus plagued our squad during Monday’s practice and in turn affected our performance at Bethune Cookman on Tuesday night. It didn’t help our game any that the gym floor was wet from sweet at times during the match. In Alyssa’s (Robertson) words, “I felt like I was ice skating on the court.” We pulled out of our slump, switching line-ups and moving people around to pull out our 3-2 win. Our victory was made sweeter by the celebration, of our athletic trainer, Cindy’s (Bennett) birthday.

We stopped on our way home to enjoy eight large pizzas - including my favorite pineapple and Canadian bacon, although the barbeque chicken wasn’t bad either. We were shocked when the waitress delivered a warm brownie platter, topped with heaps of ice cream and a dollop of cookies and cream whipped cream right before our eyes. Girls swarmed around us, spoons in hand, digging in over me. “Wait! I didn’t get any yet!” Alliya (Drezwiecki) practically yelled. “Don’t worry, I’ll save you a piece,” I promised, covering the last remaining brownie slice with my hands.

Our only other home practice on Wednesday night went much better and subsequently so did our next match. On Thursday afternoon, we packed up and piled in the vans for our long weekend on the road, excited for our University of Florida tournament and the opportunity to compete against some of the top collegiate teams in the nation. We arrived ready for practice at Gainesville, McAlister’s (Deli) on the other hand was not ready for us as we waited on our dinner longer than usual and they ended up making a few too many four cheese grilled sandwiches with a side of mac and cheese. But after our tummies were satisfied, we finished the night off with a team meeting and retired to our hotel rooms to catch up on our sleep before facing two big opponents.

First up was Florida and the atmosphere playing the Gators was an experience in itself. They dimmed the lights in the orange and blue swamp to announce the line-up. “Gator Bait!” They shouted after each Dolphin starter, cheerleaders being tossed up and all. We had some great moments, like when Kendall (Courtney) blocked one of the Gators best offensive players. While we ended up being swallowed by the swamp in the end (3-0), we put up a good fight for the duration of the first two sets, even scoring 20 points on a team that is currently ranked ninth in the nation.

Later that night, we faced another top national team and fierce opponent: Clemson. The battle was well fought on both sides. Although the Tigers had some big hitters, our defense and serve receive was unmatched. As we battled set for set, the crowd began to swell and before we know it Gators were cheering for our kills…we had gained fans as the underdogs! Of course cheering on the sidelines was the most intense! Even Cindy was rallying beside us and Tep’s (Nicole Teplitz) voice boomed out of her comparatively petite body. Tep went in to finish off the Tigers with some clutch serves, leading us to our 3-2 victory over Clemson! High off our big win, the locker room was ablaze with chatter until the coaches stepped foot inside and we all listened to Coach (John) McCallum’s speech. He presented us with the unique analogy that Florida’s turf was called “The Swamp” and that it took every one of us to grab hold of one another and cross that swamp. Our newly earned victory was worth enjoying, but tomorrow would bring a new opponent and a new set of challenges to hone in on.

We put up a solid front against Florida Atlantic and swept the Owls, 3-0. It was our first 3-0 win of the season, a great achievement for our team. In addition, we finished second in the tournament. There was only one more adversary left on our menu for the weekend.

The pod left Gainesville and headed to Tallahassee the following morning. We had some time to kill so we took a brief detour to pass the state’s capital before reaching Florida A&M. FAMU’s team was scrappy and much improved since the last time we played them. They tested our consistency, but we remained in control, crossing the snake pit and hanging up our final ‘W’ on the weekend.

In the locker room, Coach (Shaun) Kupferberg seemed satisfied with our overall weekend performance and said those two beautiful words, ice cream. While most of us savored our dessert on the trip back, one individual’s stomach was less apt to the dairy she indulged in and prevented me from sleeping on her lap or near her bladder. There was a cringing and squealing with every speed bump as we raced for the dorms to ease her pain and our irritation.

Our extended weekend away was both thrilling and demanding, but it looks like we did some growing up as a team while we were away and we are looking forward to a weekend of matches on our own territory.

- Jenell Larsen