Rachael Kramer, 6-foot-8, and Shainah Joseph, 6-foot-1, jumped in unison in front of the net, both hands in the air. Their teammate, freshman Paige Hammons, set her feet in the backcourt, bracing for Pilar Victoria’s attack, should it pass through the outstretched arms of Kramer and Joseph.
It got by all three of them, and the jumbotron read: Arkansas 25, Florida 23.
“We knew Arkansas was going to be a huge test for us,” senior Carli Snyder said. “They have a very talented outside hitter in Pilar (Victoria) and she gave us a lot of problems last time, as did the team as a whole.”
Victoria, who leads the NCAA in total kills and points, registered 30 kills in the two teams’ first meeting, a five-set thriller that went Florida’s way.
On Friday she was held to 18 kills, and the Razorbacks’ (17-9, 7-7 SEC) hitting percentage dropped roughly 75 percent from the Sept. 24 match as the Gators (21-1, 13-1 SEC) won at home 3-1 (23-25, 25-20, 25-13, 25-7).
“(Victoria) is really one of the best players to come through the SEC,” Florida coach Mary Wise said, “And it’s too bad that more teams around the country haven’t seen her. She’s really a special, special player.”
The opening set was quite competitive and filled with long rallies. Kramer led the Gators with seven kills and a pair of blocks. After six ties and a couple of lead changes, the Razorbacks prevailed and went up 1-0 (25-23).
Florida got back on track in set 2, jumping out to an early 2-0 lead before winning it 25-20. The Gators hit almost three times more efficiently than the Razorbacks in the second period, and recorded seven of their season-high 18 team blocks.
The Gators pulled away in the third set after Arkansas moved within one point early on. Florida went on to score the final five points of the set, part of a 15-4 run that led to a 2-1 advantage over the Razorbacks.
After seizing control in the third, Florida reminded the 3,031 fans in attendance why it has been a top-5 team for most of the season. In demoralizing fashion, the Gators continued to trample on a stumbling Razorbacks squad. Florida won the fourth set 25-7, the largest margin of victory in a set this season, and scored the final 14 points of the match.
Senior Rhamat Alhassan said the Gators kicked it into another gear to finish the match.
“We got the first two sets out of the way,” she said, “And then we knew what they were doing. Then we had to use that info… We’re high-IQ volleyball players. We take pride in that.”
Snyder (16 kills, six service aces, 13 digs and three blocks) was all over the court, while Kramer (16 kills, eight blocks) got going early. Alhassan, the SEC’s block leader, had nine on the night. Joseph finished with eight kills and eight blocks.
Up next for the Gators is Senior Day against Missouri (17-9, 10-3 SEC) on Sunday.
“Our team has great respect for Missouri,” Wise said. “Graduation doesn’t matter for this team. They’re always good. It’s why they’re such a great addition to the league.”
You can follow Andrew Huang on Twitter @AndrewJHuang, and contact him at [email protected].