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Focus on the moment translating to wins for volleyball

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Kentucky looks to improve their SEC record when the travel to Ole Miss and Florida this weekend. (UK Athletics, Chet White) Kentucky looks to improve their SEC record when the travel to Ole Miss and Florida this weekend. (UK Athletics, Chet White)
When asked about the upcoming weekend including a rematch with No. 11 Florida, Kentucky volleyball head coach Craig Skinner was quick to swat away any mention of Sunday's match.

"(I'm) Not talking about Florida yet," said Skinner. "No comment on Florida."

That's because before Kentucky travels to Gainesville, Fla., the Wildcats have to first take care of business against the Ole Miss Rebels on Friday night at 8:00 p.m. ET in Oxford, Miss.

Now five matches into the Southeastern Conference slate, Skinner's team is riding a three-match win streak into this weekend's matchups with Ole Miss (8-6, 2-3 SEC) and Florida (11-2, 5-0 SEC).  One glance at the records of those two teams and one might expect the Cats to be pumping themselves up for a rematch against the Gators.

Kentucky opened up SEC play with Florida at Memorial Coliseum looking to make a statement early on in conference play. The Cats had almost pulled off an upset over No. 1 ranked Nebraska the weekend before, but had lost two matches in a row and had waited an entire week to play.

A statement was made, but it was almost exclusively Florida doing the talking. The Gators swept the Wildcats on their home floor and Kentucky was staggering.

Most teams would be salivating at the chance to right that wrong and take down the undefeated conference leaders, but not Kentucky. At least not yet.

The Wildcats first have to get past the Rebels, who, despite a losing record so far in the conference, haven't dropped a home match this season in five tries. The unique environment that Mississippi provides gives the Rebels a strong home-court advantage, and Kentucky has had its share of struggles in Oxford.

Last season, the Cats barely skated by with the match going five sets. After going deep into its bench, Kentucky was left in a quite a predicament.

"A lot of us upperclassmen know just how well they play against us when we play there," said senior setter Christine Hartmann. "Last year we ran out of subs and we had to play Jessi (Greenberg) on the outside and we still won. So it was great to know we can win in that environment in that situation."

With the rematch with the Gators looming, Kentucky is hardly distracted.

Kentucky, which showed up at No. 17 in the first RPI ranking of the season, was saddled with arguably the hardest non-conference schedule in the country. The Cats had their share of marquee opponents, and they've also had their hiccups along the way. After all that this team has gone through in the first half of the season, it seems the Cats have learned their lesson when it comes to overlooking their next opponent.

"We've learned too much already to look past our next match," said Skinner. "I know our team understands the ability of Ole Miss and what they are capable of and the types of things they do to be successful. So I don't think there's any doubt that we'll be ready to play in Oxford on Friday night."

If what his players are saying is any indication of that, then he's exactly right.

"We can't overlook Ole Miss and look straight to Florida," said senior libero Stephanie Klefot. "Ole Miss is a really good team and just going in (Thursday), having a good practice, and then Saturday, when we go to Gainesville, we will focus on Florida then."

The key to keeping their attention toward the Rebels is an increased emphasis on focus. The longer the Wildcats can focus, the better off they will be.

"One thing (Skinner) just said at the end of practice was that we need to focus for longer periods of time," said Hartmann. "That's the biggest thing for us. Even against Auburn when we had that second set where we had a mental lapse and let them come back in, so that's where we're translating from practice."

Focus isn't just the emphasis, but it's an ongoing theme for the Wildcats on a daily basis. Whether it's on the court or in the coaches' offices, every member of the program is making sure to keep their sights on the next task at hand.

For Kentucky, it's all about working on what the Wildcats do well, and not so much about Ole Miss, Florida or whoever the opponent may be. Kentucky has to take care of itself and take things one step at a time.

"It's doing what we do," said Skinner. "We have to focus on that. As coaches we have to prepare each day and that's what we've stressed to our team is that today is the most important thing we can think about and that's really what our focus is in the office and during practice."

That's exactly what this team is doing. They've bought into the process of becoming a good team through training, practice, and the matches themselves while living in the present.

And how have they done that? By focusing, of course.

 "We're trying to just stay focused," said Klefot. "We're not really looking back at what we have done and haven't done. We're just trying to play one day at a time, really, and just continue to get better at the things we need to get better at.

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