After laboring through a brutal Big Ten schedule, the No. 22 Michigan volleyball team has found consistency against non-conference opponents.

After defeating Baylor and upsetting No. 6 Stanford in resounding fashion in the first two rounds of the NCAA Tournament last weekend, the Wolverines feel as if they can compete with any team in the nation.

“We’re feeling good right now,” said senior outside hitter Alex Hunt. “We’re not feeling any tension because we’re kind of rockin’ the underdog thing. No one really expected us to beat Stanford — the No. 6 team in the country — pretty handily. It was a really big win that we needed to get some confidence.”

Michigan will need that confidence if it is going to find success against No. 17 Florida (17-3 SEC, 26-5 overall) in the Sweet 16 on Friday.

The Gators, an athletic and physical team, are riding a nine-match winning streak. Their six-two offensive system — a set that allows them to play two setters at once — has the potential to give Michigan (8-12 Big Ten, 22-12 overall) all sorts of problems.

“(That offense) can be good or bad for us,” said Michigan coach Mark Rosen. “You don’t have to worry about their setter attacking so it takes one piece of the equation out. But at the same time, you have three attackers at the net all the time rather than two.”

At the heart of Florida’s offense is Kelly Murphy, a 6-foot-2 lefty from Chicago. An American Volleyball Coaches Association First-Team All-American selection last year and the AVCA National Freshman of the Year three years ago, Murphy swings between the setter and hitter positions. Considered to be equally effective at both positions, Murphy leads the Gators in assists and is second on the team in kills.

“Kelly Murphy is really talented,” Rosen said. “When she’s front row, she’s their best hitter. When she’s back row, she’s their best setter. She’s going to be a big factor in the match and we’re going to try to contain her a little bit. They have a lot of other good players too and they are all extremely athletic.”

That athleticism has helped the Gators become one of the premier attacking teams in the nation. Though their kills total (1514) doesn’t overwhelm, they are superb at converting scoring opportunities — their .308 attack percentage currently leads the nation.

And it’s not only Murphy who is overpowering opponents. Outside hitter Kristy Jaeckel, the Gators’ leader in kills with 372, has paced the Gators with 32 total kills in victories over Missouri and No. 12 Northern Iowa in the first two rounds of the NCAA Tournament.

Michigan will try to counter Florida’s offensive attack with high defensive intensity.

Led by senior libero Sloane Donhoff, who led the team with 16 digs against Stanford, the Wolverines frustrated the Cardinals with great defense. Rosen said that Michigan can have similar success against the Gators if it maintains that same level of defensive intensity.

The Wolverines will also have their hands full on the offensive end. Florida is a good blocking team and leads its conference in opponent hitting percentage with .157. It will try to do a lot of its defensive work up front and will contest every attacking opportunity Michigan gets.

“We need to make sure we stay balanced with what we do and try to keep their block guessing,” Rosen said.

Freshman setter Lexi Dannemiller, who ranks 11th in the nation with 11.65 assists per set, will be cast with the responsibility of keeping the Gators’ aggressive defense off-balance.

With five of her teammates posting at least 200 kills so far this season — Hunt, redshirt junior outside hitter Claire McElheny, sophomore outside hitter Lexi Erwin, senior middle blocker Courtney Fletcher and sophomore middle blocker Jennifer Cross — Dannemiller will have no shortage of viable options. She is also unafraid to call her own number, as she totaled 11 kills in the two matches last weekend.

Though they own a 0-3 all-time record against the Gators, the Wolverines feel that they can snap the winless streak.

“If we can maintain the level of offense that we had (against Stanford), I really don’t see anyone beating us,” Hunt said.

“We’ve just been having a lot of fun on the court (of late) and everything is kind of finally clicking together.”

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