Georgia’s Meghan Donovan (22) sets the ball into the air for a teammate to spike across the net. The University of Georgia volleyball team faced off against Tennessee to win by a score of 3-1 on Oct. 4, 2019, in Athens, Georgia. (Photo/Kathryn Skeean, kskeean@randb.com)

At the end of last season, the Georgia volleyball team finished ninth in the SEC standings. This season, the Bulldogs currently sit at 13-4 overall and 5-1 in the SEC, only one game back from first place Ole Miss.

One of the most significant differences so far? Georgia’s play in close matches, specifically those that reach that fifth-set. Georgia is 4-0 in such matches, with two of the wins coming last weekend against Alabama and previously No. 12 Kentucky.

Georgia played in 10 five-set matches last season, tied for second-most in the SEC. This was an issue for the Bulldogs, who went 3-7 in such matches. In 2017, Georgia went 1-3 in the pivotal fifth set. This appeared to be a trend that was not going in the right direction, until this season.

The success might be a surprise to some but not to those who are stepping on the court.

“We’re so close together as a team off the court and on the court,” junior Kendall Glover said. “I think that shows, especially when we’re in super close matches … That’s the biggest difference. I knew we were going to do well this year, and it’s [starting to] show how much work we’ve put in.”

The players may have known they would have success this season, but the voters in the SEC Preseason Coaches’ Poll certainly did not. Georgia was voted as the preseason No. 8 team in the SEC, behind teams like Kentucky, Tennessee, South Carolina, and LSU, all of whom the Bulldogs have beaten.

Senior Meghan Donovan has been one of the reasons for Georgia’s success. She ranks first in the SEC in total assists for the season with 740. When the competition steps up, so does Donovan, who had a season-high 54 assists in the match against Kentucky.

Donovan already has a large amount of trust in herself, but it’s starting to spread throughout the team as well.

“I feel like we have a lot of trust in each other right now and in our abilities,” Donovan said. “We’re gonna put it all out on the court, each and every one of us.”

In any match, especially close ones, any small advantage against the competition can be the difference in winning and losing. The Bulldogs are hoping that trust and confidence are what they can use to keep the wins coming.

“The margins are thin,” Georgia head coach Tom Black said. “But the outcome has a big impact on you.”

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