By (Ben Boynton)

The Alabama Crimson Tide volleyball team is 11-2 after the non-conference portion of its schedule. Though coach Ed Allen may not be entirely pleased with his team’s performance to date, It’s still a very strong record to hold, and an improvement over the 5-8 record the team had prior to its SEC opener last season.

The Crimson Tide will take that combination of a good record and unsteady play into the toughest two-match stretch of the season so far, as No. 19 Texas A&M and No. 6 Florida come to town this weekend.

“I see an opportunity to play some of the best volleyball that we’ve played all year, because we’ll need to do that if we want to be competitive,” Allen said. “We’re excited about the challenge that it is…the three of us should finish in the top four of the league, and we’re all going to square off against each other this weekend.”

Both teams played Alabama just once last season, and both matches held the same result for the Crimson Tide: a 3-0 loss on the road. Allen said those results wouldn’t be a focus as the team prepares for this weekend’s matches. He said the team would focus on film from the two teams’ play this season.

“We know that they are really great all-around,” junior libero Natalie Murison said. “Both of them are a great blocking team, great on defense, so I think if we play smart and play good defense on our side, take good shots, and really play good defense all around and keep the ball in that will really help us.”

Alabama had some tough opponents during the non-conference schedule, with then-No. 16 Florida State and an 11-1 Tulsa team both earning wins over Alabama. However, Allen says the level of competition in the conference is higher than anything the team will find outside the SEC.

“Everything is taken to another level because it’s in conference,” Allen said. “Everyone wants to finish well in the league. It’s like playing with your brothers and sisters, you always want to beat your brother. I think the emotion of the match is much higher.”

The team can have spirited matches against out of conference opponents, such as the five set win over Southern Miss that featured plenty of passion and determination from both sides. However, an SEC match brings a different energy.

“SEC competition is just a whole other level of intensity,” senior outside hitter Brittany Thomas said. “The level of play and the rivalry between the different schools, it’s just like football. It’s a lot better to see one of those matches.”

The Crimson Tide is unlikely to be at full health when the weekend begins. Junior outside hitter Kat Hutson is day-to-day with an undisclosed injury, but it is possible she plays at some point. Junior libero Brooke Feld is dealing with a hand injury that may impact her ability to play.

The team hasn’t hosted Texas A&M or Florida in Foster Auditorium since the 2013 season, and is eager to play the two opponents in front of a friendly crowd.

“It’s awesome, just to have our home fans and being in our gym,” Murison said. “Especially playing [teams like] A&M and Florida in our home gym is really helpful for us.”

Alabama will host Texas A&M on Friday at 6 p.m. and will host Florida Sunday at noon. Both matches will be broadcast on the SEC Network.

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Source:: The Crimson White Sports