The No. 11 Florida volleyball team returned home after a four-match road trip to Arizona and Tallahassee to play three matches in the Honda of Gainesville Gator Invitational.
The Gators (9-3) swept the tournament, beating Jacksonville and FIU in a doubleheader on Friday and defeating Army on Saturday.
Here are some things we learned from the successful weekend that extended the Gators’ winning streak to five matches:
Florida’s front line is dominant
The season has been up and down, but the defense in UF’s front row remains authoritative in the first part of the season.
That front row totaled 32 blocks and suppressed opponents all weekend.
Senior middle blocker Taelor Kellum led her team in blocks in all three matches. Her 18 total blocks, along with her 20 kills on only 30 swings, made her one of the stars of the weekend.
“As indicated by when we don’t block well, the opponents hit for high percentages,” coach Mary Wise said after Saturday’s match. “It has to be something we have to continue to work on.”
The Gators will be a tough team to beat if the front-row defense remains this consistent and continues to improve offensively.
That offensive improvement will rely on junior middle blocker Rachael Kramer, who has begun to get more involved since her slow start to the season.
Kramer saw a resurgence in Arizona last weekend after she started the season hitting a dreadful .093 hitting percentage. The 6-foot-8 middle blocker continued to play well at the Gator Invitational, hitting 16 kills on an efficient .593 hitting percentage.
Expect the duo of Kramer and Kellum, as well as rotational players like middle blocker Darrielle King and right-side hitter Haley Warner, to be key as the team enters SEC play on Friday against Ole Miss.
Paige Hammons is to be feared
Sophomore outside hitter Paige Hammons, much like Kramer, did not begin the season lighting up the stat sheet after she hit just a .064 hitting percentage through the first five matches.
But the Louisville, Kentucky, native slowly improved with every match and impressed in the Gator Invitational.
Hammons hit 25 kills on a .463 hitting percentage and dug 20 balls with eight blocks over the weekend.
Hammons still has not crossed 10 kills on the season but continues to show a well-balanced playstyle that can benefit her team as it enters conference play.
Depth will be pivotal entering conference play
Wise raved about the team’s depth at the beginning of the season and emphasized how much it would come into play as the season went along.
Florida fans got an eyeful of what that depth could do last weekend.
Six Gators registered five or more kills in Saturday’s match against Army, including redshirt sophomore outside hitter Mia Sokolowski, who had 11.
Sokolowski has only started in three matches but has been a big piece to Florida’s offense, logging 35 kills on the season.
Freshman setter Marlie Monserez, sister of fifth-year setter Allie Monserez, also showed promise when the Gators ran a 6-2 rotation over the weekend.
Monserez has only started four matches and rotates behind her sister, but she has still tallied 179 assists and three service aces in 2018.
Depth players like Sokolowski and Monserez, along with others like Warner and 6-foot-6 freshman middle blocker Lauren Dooley, are expected to be a significant strength for the team as every match becomes more and more important.
You can follow Dylan Rudolph on Twitter @dyrudolph or contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Middle blocker Rachael Kramer (left) and outside hitter Mia Sokolowski (right) figure to be prominent players heading forward for the Gators. Kramer racked up 16 kills during the Gator Invitational. Sokolowski has 35 kills this season in a reserve role.