The Florida Gators volleyball season began about 100 days ago.
It was unknown what would come of the young team that lost four All-Americans at the end of the 2017 season. The program was almost starting from scratch.
The first matchup against the reigning National Champions, a Nebraska team that took the title right out from under the Gators in the 2017 championship match, was quite a way to start the season.
But the pressure of what was on the line didn’t stop the Gators.
Florida defeated the Cornhuskers 3-1 on Aug. 24 in Lincoln, Nebraska, one of the country’s most difficult atmospheres.
That first win of season launched it into the successful season we’ll look back on today.
The Gators finished off the season with a 26-7 (15-3 SEC) record after taking a 3-1 loss at the hands of BYU in the third round of the NCAA Tournament.
Let’s take a look at some of the major turning points for the Gators this season:
The addition of Thayer Hall and Holly Carlton
Freshman outside hitter Thayer Hall and sophomore North Carolina transfer and right-side attacker/setter Holly Carlton made their impact quite early in the season for Florida.
The two newcomers stepped onto the court with a certain vibe of confidence that made them appear as program veterans.
Both powerhouse players earned their starting positions from the very first serve and held consistent play throughout the entire season.
The two combined for a total of 590 kills, nearly 38 percent of the team’s total kills. Carlton led the roster with 302 kills and Hall followed suit with 288 kills of her own.
Hall played in 26 of the team’s 33 games, and her 2.88 kills per set led the Gators.
Both players were recently named All-Americans with junior middle blocker Rachael Kramer.
This attacking duo will be pivotal for next season with the losses of senior middle blocker Taelor Kellum and senior setter Allie Monserez.
Major wins: Nebraska, Florida State, UCF and three back-to-back conference battles
Florida’s most significant wins came early in the season for the most part but definitely continued into the halfway point as well.
The 3-1 championship rematch against Nebraska in front of the Cornhuskers’ home crowd was arguably the biggest win of the season. And it was only the first match.
The Gators also took away two wins from in-state rival Florida State this season. They knocked down the Seminoles 3-1 in Tallahassee on Sept. 12 and held them down again with a sweep in the first round of the NCAA Tournament at UCF.
Florida also handed UCF its last loss of the regular season during the Bubly Invitational in Gainesville. The win proved its worthiness as the Knights gained a 13th-seeded bid to the NCAA Tournament and lost to FGCU in the first round, hosting on their home court.
The last stint of wins that proved to be most valuable for the Gators this season was back-to-back-to-back wins in SEC play against Texas A&M, Georgia and at South Carolina. All three matches ended in fifth-set wins for the Gators.
The transition in offense from a 6-2 to a 5-1
The first game without Hall was on Oct. 28 against Mississippi State. She was out with an undisclosed injury, and it was a game of unknowns for the Gators, which had heavily relied on Hall all season long.
The team faced adversity head-on with many players, like sophomore outside hitter Paige Hammons, stepping up their game to make up for the loss.
The Gators were forced to make a transition from running a less traditional 6-2 offense, with six hitters and two setters, to a more traditional 5-1 offense, with five hitters and one setter.
Carlton used her prior setting experience to fill in a rotation gap for the team and things slowly progressed.
The biggest lesson learned from Hall’s stint out of play was that the team could win without her. At times they struggled, like in the 3-0 sweep loss at Kentucky, but they went 5-2 without Hall.
Looking forward to next season
Not a whole lot should change next season, and the Gators are in the most perfect position they could be for moving forward.
Seven out of nine players on the starting lineup will return next season.
The losses of Monserez and Kellum will be noticeable, but there are plenty of players that are ready to fill the void, like middle blocker Lauren Dooley and setter Marlie Monserez.
Follow Mari Faiello on Twitter @faiello_mari and contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Freshman Thayer Hall played in 26 of the Gators' 33 games this season and recorded a team-high 2.88 kills per set.