Florida came into this shortened 2020 season with title dreams, but there was one thing it had yet to deal with this campaign:
And on Thursday against South Carolina, UF finally dealt with it.
UF lost the first, fourth and deciding fifth set and fell to South Carolina 3-2 Thursday afternoon in Columbia, South Carolina. It was the Gators’ (5-1) first loss of the season and their first loss to the Gamecocks since 2006.
It was clear in the first set that this would be a different kind of match than Florida was used to, as South Carolina came aggressively. Both teams made very few errors in that opening set, with UF finishing with a scoring percentage of 0.351 and South Carolina at 0.381.
It was a back and forth first set. Neither squad had a lead greater than two until South Carolina went on a mini-run to give it a 21-18 lead. From there, the Gamecocks never let up and took set No. 1 25-21.
But in the second set, Florida seemed to correct its mistakes, especially on the defensive end. UF held South Carolina to a hitting percentage of 0.100, while UF was at 0.414 in the same frame.
This set was never in danger for the Gators, unlike the first. South Carolina kept it close early on, but after a media timeout with Florida ahead 15-13, the Gators ran away and secured the second set 25-17.
The third set was more like what was seen in the first set, with punches being thrown back and forth. The difference was that in the first set, both teams played superb volleyball: In the third set, it was sloppy play all around. Service errors and mistakes were rampant on both sides, and Florida was under 0.300 for hitting percentage at 0.286.
While Florida’s offense was struggling in the third, its defense continued a solid performance. South Carolina’s hitting percentage was 0.150.
The offensive issues didn’t let up for UF in the fourth set. That set was arguably its worst of the season, as it had a horrendous .036 hitting percentage in the frame. After keeping it close early, South Carolina blew it open and rolled to a 25-13 set win, setting up a winner-take-all fifth set.
Heading into the fifth, the odds seemed to favor South Carolina. It had the momentum from that fourth set rout and was 4-1 this season after winning the first set. Despite that, Florida still came out strong in the final frame with a 9-5 lead before a Gamecock timeout.
But then the match flipped one more time, and SC took advantage of critical Florida mistakes to end the match on a 5-0 scoring run and secure the 15-12 set victory.
The Gators got solid performances from seniors Thayer Hall (20 kills),T’ara Ceasar (18 kills) and junior Marlie Monserez (a season high 48 assists), but they were overshadowed by sloppy play at critical junctures during the match.
South Carolina freshman Riley Whiteside led all players with 23 kills and hit 0.413 on the afternoon.
UF will look to bounce back as it closes out its fall schedule at home against Georgia next Friday and Saturday.
Contact Noah Ram at email@example.com and follow him on Twitter @Noah_ram1.
Noah is a third year journalism-sports and media student from Palm Beach Gardens, Florida. He has been with The Alligator since Spring 2019 and has covered men’s and women’s tennis, gymnastics and volleyball. When he isn’t on his beat, Noah is usually sadden over his beloved South Florida sports teams, such as the Heat and Dolphins.