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Tuesday, March 28, 2023

There was more on the line than usual for Florida.

The Gators needed to win in straight sets in order to catch their flight back to Gainesville. If not, they would need to stay overnight.

Apparently, they didn't want to spend any more time in Fayetteville, Ark., than they had to. No. 5 Florida (8-1, 2-0 Southeastern Conference) cruised to a victory against Arkansas (7-6, 1-1 SEC) in timely fashion Sunday (25-16, 25-19, 26-24) and was able to catch its flight back home.

"The only way we are going to make our flight is if we won in three sets, so the team was highly motivated," UF coach Mary Wise said.

Sophomore outside hitters Kristy Jaeckel and Colleen Ward seemed especially determined to avoid an extra night on the road.

Jaeckel finished the match with 12 kills and eight digs, just short of her second double-double of the weekend. Ward continued to show improvement from last season, accounting for 14 of the team's kills while posting a .448 hitting percentage.

"Colleen is learning that not every set can be hit a million miles per hour," Wise said. "If you take something off the ball and it stays in bounds, we benefit from that, and that shows the maturing of her game."

Although the match turned out to be a quick win for the Gators, they needed a comeback in the third set to seal the win. Down 22-19, UF used four Arkansas attack errors to narrow the gap and eventually end the match.

However, an alarming streak grew even bigger after Sunday's match. UF was again outblocked, seven to six. Sophomore Cassandra Anderson continues to be the lone source of blocks, as she is the only player on the team averaging more than one per set.

Despite that, the Gators' defense and ability to avoid mistakes turned out to be the difference in the match. They hit six service aces to their five service errors and limited the Razorbacks to a .144 hitting percentage.

But UF was not as efficient behind the line Friday, when it was pushed to the limit by Ole Miss (6-6, 0-2 SEC). The Gators eventually won the match 3-2 (21-25, 25-16, 25-17, 26-28, 15-11) but struggled with their serving the entire night.

UF was only able to hit one ace the entire match while committing 14 service errors. But it appears the team was able to fix that part of their game on Sunday, as they racked up a season-high number of aces.

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Senior libero Elyse Cusack dug up a combined 40 balls over the weekend and moved into third place on the all-time SEC digs list on Friday.

The Ole Miss match was also a good one for sophomore setter Kelly Murphy, as she filled up the stat sheet with 20 kills, 32 assists and 16 digs for her second triple-double of the season and the eighth of her short career at UF.

Now that the Gators have started off the SEC season with two wins, they have completed their longest road trip of the season and will return to the O'Connell Center for the first time since Aug. 31.

"We asked a lot of this team to go three weekends in a row on the road," Wise said. "This was not an easy road trip."

A radio broadcast contributed to this report.

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