In the first set, Florida slammed attacks long and wide of the court for a total of five errors.
After 14 days away from the hardwood, a slow 9-4 deficit versus the Volunteers was predictable. The previous match was a 3-1 victory against LSU, where the Gators jogged off the starting block and committed 23 errors.
Then, Florida took its first lead of the set 18-16, but resolute Tennessee battled each rally fiercely.
Middle blocker Lauren Dooley stuffed three-straight Tennessee swings with teammates Thayer Hall and Holly Carlton, saving the set. The junior launched a 6-0 run and allowed the Gators to seize control and cruise to a 25-20 first set and match win.
Dooley’s solo block, seven assisted blocks and six kills helped No. 8 Florida knock off the Volunteers (6-5) in Knoxville, Tennessee, Thursday 3-0 (25-20, 25-18, 25-21).
Junior T’ara Ceasar arose to her normal form after two early errors. Florida (11-2) hit a poor .150 hitting percentage, .127 lower than average. However, it salvaged its poor effort with six blocks and held Tennessee to a .049 hitting percentage.
The start of the second set mirrored the first. The Gators fell behind 4-0 with sloppy play as Hall recorded two attack errors with Carlton adding another.
Hall then found her groove. She tallied a kill and an ace and cut their deficit to 4-3. Florida then traded the next five points back and forth before it sparked a 4-0 run and clutched a 9-7 lead.
Setter Marlie Monserez jumped into the kills column and forced Tennessee to call its first time out of the second frame behind 11-10.
The Gators and the Volunteers then traded punches. But Tennessee still couldn’t tie the second set or reclaim the lead.
With a 16-15 score, middle blocker Lauren Forte scored back-to-back kills. This forced the Volunteers to take their second timeout of the set, trailing 18-15.
Florida outscored its opponent 7-3 via two Ceasar kills and a Forte and Carlton kill. The Gators teetered on a three-set sweep and secured the second-set win 25-18.
Slow starts in sets became a bad habit for the Gators during the match. They fell behind 9-3 in the opening act of the third frame.
But Florida regrouped to cut Tennessee’s lead to 11-9. It proceeded to take a 12-11 lead in the third frame behind two Hall and Ceasar kills. Forte and Dooley pitched in with a kill each. Outside hitter Paige Hammons laced an ace between Tennessee defenders.
The two teams then faced deadlocked in the seesaw affair and exchanged the lead until they hit 16 apiece. The Gators claimed the three-point advantage through Hall and Ceasar kills and a Tennessee setter Natalie Hayward error.
The Volunteers called its second timeout of the frame while down 19-16. They made one last-ditch effort to force a fourth set and trim Florida’s lead to one at 20-19.
Ceasar slammed the door on that possibility and tallied four kills to earn the Gators the third-set and match victory. Florida swept Tennessee in the first match of its double-header in Knoxville.
The former Georgia transfer left her imprint on the match and notched 19 kills for a .417 hitting percentage. Hall followed with seven.
To coach Mary Wise, Ceasar’s performance was special and won’t be forgotten.
The Gators achieved a .261 hitting percentage while it held the Volunteers south of .150. Their defense stood tall like the Great Wall of China, adding nine blocks.
Florida will square off against Tennessee at 1 p.m. The match will stream on SEC Network. The team hopes to grab both matches against the unranked Volunteers as it tries to keep pace with league-leader No. 3 Kentucky.
Contact Zachary Huber at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter @zacharyahuber