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Friday, May 20, 2022

The first home match of the 2018 season for the Florida volleyball team began with players jumping with glee and throwing T-shirts into the stands. It ended with those same players jumping with desperation trying to block No. 7 USC’s spikes and throwing their arms up in frustration.

Florida (1-2) lost to the Trojans (4-0) in four sets on Friday in the first match of the season at the O’Connell Center. While the Gators showed flashes of positivity, it was outweighed by the bad.

Redshirt sophomore Holly Carlton seized control when her team needed her and took advantage of almost every opportunity she was given. The 6-foot-7 middle blocker, who transferred from North Carolina just three months prior, led the team with 16 kills to go along with her three blocks.

“It really shows the depth we have on this team,” Carlton said. “Last week it was Thayer (Hall), and this week it was me. We can really spread it around on this team.”

Carlton’s impressive performance came as USC seemed to focus on Hall and junior middle blocker Rachael Kramer, which allowed her to take advantage of the holes in the defense and hit confidently when the passes came her way.

Another bright spot was sophomore setter Macy Phillips, who acted as a serving specialist in Friday’s match. Phillips’s devastating jump serves proved hard to handle for USC’s defense.

“Macy certainly brings a big gun,” coach Mary Wise said. “She’s really earned her playing time.”

Phillips logged three service aces, two of them coming consecutively in the third set that spawned a 4-0 run for her team.

While the positives were evident, the Gators saw many more negatives.

The biggest issue that Florida struggled with was with attack errors. The team registered 24 in total along with five blocking errors. Wise pointed out that passing was a significant problem and resulted in many of her team’s missteps.

“While most of our errors came on passing,” Wise said, “USC also struggled with it. The difference was they had the talent to take big rips even on their poor passes.”

USC’s two outside left-handed hitters, sophomore Brooke Botkin and junior Khalia Lanier, combined for 34 kills. The Florida defense seemed to have no answer for the hard-hitting duo.

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“Most of the attention will go to Khalia Lanier, as it should, but Botkin is putting up First-Team All American type numbers,” Wise said. “When you have two All-American lefts, you got a chance to win it all.”

The two Trojan lefties proved too much for the young Gator defense, which had four freshmen on the court during the deciding set.

Another problem that arose was the team’s serving and serve receiving. Florida registered three service errors in the first set, the last one clinching it for the Trojans. UF ended with six service errors on the night and allowed seven Trojan aces in the loss.

The Gators also gave up two service aces.

Florida’s game plan was evident from the first rally in Friday’s match: Feed Thayer Hall. After the outside hitter tallied 41 kills against Nebraska and Texas in the VERT Challenge last weekend, no one was surprised, including the Trojans.

USC clearly focused on stopping Hall from having the performances she had a week ago. Three Trojans followed her every time she touched the ball and suffocated her at the net.

The freshman outside hitter still managed 12 kills on her game-high 50 attempts. She said the extra attention from USC wasn’t the reason for the Gators’ loss.

“We just need to clean up our play and make better decisions,” Hall said.

UF will have a quick turnaround as it faces Louisville on Saturday for the second match of the Bubly Invitational. First serve is scheduled for 5 p.m.

Dylan Rudolph is a sports writer. Follow him on Twitter @dyrudolph and contact him at drudolph@alligator.org 

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