Paige Hammons lined up for a serve in the second set donning her bright, highlighter orange headband and smacking her gum as she had done every match previous. Her serve slapped the tape of the net, but it crept over the side and fell just out of reach of three Arkansas defenders, causing them to look up in the rafters of the O’Connell Center and wish they were as fortunate.
It’s sometimes better to be lucky than good. But it’s even better to be both, and the No. 11 Florida volleyball team was in the four-set win (25-20, 15-25, 20-25, 15-25) over the Razorbacks on Sunday to mark its 1000th win in program history.
“It feels great,” Hammons said. “I’m really excited to do it with this group of girls.”
The match did not start off with all smiles, however. Thayer Hall stood on the sidelines in a white, baggy shirt and blue sweatpants watching her team struggle in the first set. The Gators were without their high-flying freshman for the third-consecutive match with an undisclosed injury, and they felt the impact.
Florida committed five attack errors and just a .194 hitting percentage. The offense lacked consistency and a spark from the back row with Hall out.
Arkansas libero Okiana Valle also gave UF trouble. The 5-foot-2 senior stood tall against the barrage of attacks, logging five digs in the first set and 15 on the match.
“We just had to hit away from her,” coach Mary Wise said. “Hit away from her. Serve away from her. She played very well tonight.”
After the rough start, though, Hammons took over. Her hard hits and consistent defense shifted the momentum and created runs that helped UF rally back. In the second set, Hammons hit back-to-back kills to help take Florida’s first lead in the set. She then started an 8-1 run later with two sprawling digs, one from her knees. Both runs helped put the set out of reach and tie the match.
Hammons followed that up in the third set with two service aces in a 7-1 run to put her team up.
The rest of the team followed suit. Middle blocker Taelor Kellum and outside hitter Mia Sokolowski completely overwhelmed the Razorback defense, combining for 22 kills.
Fifth-year setter Allie Monserez finished the match with 44 assists and five digs in the comeback win.
“It definitely feels good to come back home and get a win,” Monserez said. “It feels like forever since we’ve played here last and had a game where we really find our rhythm.”
The Gators will have a full week to rest before they travel to play Auburn on Nov. 11. It remains to be seen if Hall will return for that match, but Wise said that she and the rest of the coaching staff are confident in Hall’s return, they just don’t know when.
“We don’t have that one player we can just jump on the back of,” Wise said. “We need point production out of everybody from this match on forward.”
Follow Dylan Rudolph on Twitter @dyrudolph or contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Sophomore outside hitter Paige Hammons recorded a game-high 16 kills and added four service aces in Florida’s four-set win against Arkansas on Sunday afternoon.