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Thursday, March 23, 2023

Mary Wise gave a quick fist pump as she looked at the stat sheet after Sunday's match. The Gators didn't just outblock an opponent for the first time this season, they dominated at the net.

No. 5 Florida (10-1, 4-0 Southeastern Conference) put up eight blocks to Alabama's one, and the Gators dismantled the Crimson Tide 3-0 (25-16, 25-11, 25-14) in the O'Connell Center on Sunday. The sweep against Alabama (5-9, 3-1 SEC) was UF's third straight and the second of the weekend, as Florida breezed by Mississippi State (4-11, 0-4 SEC) on Friday 3-0 (25-12, 25-14, 25-18).

"The blocks didn't happen by accident. We're doing something right," said Wise, who is still undefeated against Alabama in her 19 years at UF. "We're working at it daily, and I don't think the players were any less frustrated that we weren't recording blocks than the coaches."

Sunday was the first time the Gators came away with a blocking advantage since Dec. 6, when UF outblocked Colorado State nine to five in last year's NCAA Tournament.

Sophomore middle blocker Cassandra Anderson led the team with five block assists, sophomore outside hitter Colleen Ward added four block assists and senior Kristina Johnson contributed a solo block and two block assists.

After spending the first part of the team's practice the last few weeks working on blocking, sophomore outside hitter Kristy Jaeckel said the effort paid off Sunday.

"I think it was just a matter of time before our blocking was going to start clicking," Jaeckel said. "We've been putting in the time, putting in the technique, so it was just a matter of time before it all came together and we started touching balls and making plays."

In addition to winning the blocking battle, the Gators outplayed the Tide in virtually all aspects of the game. UF recorded 42 kills on a season-high .418 hitting percentage, compared to Alabama's 24 kills and paltry .021 percentage.

Ward and Jaeckel led the way for Florida's hitting attack. Ward logged 14 kills and a career-high .667 hitting percentage, while Jaeckel added 12 kills. Despite taking a combined 41 swings, the two recorded just one attack error.

"We thought we had a good matchup in terms of getting kills from our left side," Wise said. "Not only are they killing balls, they didn't get blocked today and they're not hitting balls out of bounds. What I think you're seeing is the maturing of two sophomores that are really playing well right now."

Florida's improved blocking and all-around success Sunday bodes well for the upcoming weekend, when UF will take on No. 17 Kentucky, the only other SEC team ranked in the top 25, and Tennessee to round out the team's four-match homestand.

"We've discussed that blocks, assists and digs are effort plays," Wise said. "We knew it would come, and probably no time too soon, because we know what we have the next two weeks."

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