Rhamat Alhassan would not be stopped.
On two set points, the 6-foot-4 middle blocker found open hardwood to finish off the sets and help inch the Gators toward victory in a rematch of their lone loss on the season.
On Wednesday night, No. 4 Florida (19-1, 11-1 SEC) got revenge on its SEC rival, sweeping the No. 6 Kentucky Wildcats (19-3, 10-1 SEC) in Lexington, 25-19, 25-23, 25-22. It was the first matchup in SEC history in which two top-six teams faced off against each other.
With their SEC title hopes on the line, the Gators came out with poise and composure from the beginning of the match. Because of the victory, UF hurdled Kentucky for first place in the conference, silencing the crowd in the process.
In their last match Oct. 15, the Wildcats did the same thing, hushing Gators fans in the O’Connell Center and outplaying Florida on the offensive and defensive sides of the net, giving Florida its lone loss of the season. Coach Mary Wise said the team used the loss as a learning tool.
“We spent about two weeks trying to learn from the performance the first time,” Wise said. “So, you don’t learn that without playing the likes of a team as good as Kentucky. The way they played in Gainesville, I think they could’ve beaten just about anybody in the country.”
This time, however, UF suffocated the Wildcats with a .327 hitting efficiency and held a high-flying UK offense to a season-low .170 hitting percentage.
Senior Carli Snyder said that everything was clicking from the start as the team did their best to play low-error volleyball.
“I think our team did such an amazing job tonight of when the point wasn’t going our way, we’re going to combat that by putting them in a bad situation and not just letting them out of it by making mistakes,” Snyder said. “So, I feel really excited that we did that tonight.”
Snyder played one of her best games of the season with 15 kills and no errors. Snyder was also a key piece on defense, digging up eight balls. With a smile and elation on her face, Wise showed high praise for the senior following her performance.
“She stayed the course, she stayed patient and knew she’d get some good looks,” Wise said. “And it was easily one of the best outside hitting performances of a Gator in our tenure.”
Up front, Alhassan had nine kills and seven blocks, providing the Gators with a wall at the top of the net. On many occasions, the senior deflected shots from Kentucky, helping the back line out by slowing down some hard-hit attempts from the Wildcats.
On the right side, outside hitter Shainah Joseph contributed 12 kills on 21 attempts and set up the final match point on a nice cross-court shot in the third set.
For Kentucky, sophomore Leah Edmond was the offensive spark that kept the Wildcats in the match. Edmond put 16 of her 33 shots into the beige hardwood of the court while committing only two errors.
After the game, Wise said having the atmosphere of the game and caliber of the match is huge for the league.
“Tonight, we were fortunate enough to win here,” Wise said. “But I’m telling you, we could play each other 10 times and it could easily be 5-5.”
You can follow Justin Ahlum on Twitter @justinn_case1, and contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.