After a stressful, five-set marathon Friday, the Gators gave fans in the O’Connell Center plenty of opportunities to celebrate Saturday.
Florida took down the Missouri Tigers and tallied their 11th straight win in the process. The Gators looked dominant throughout the match, a stark contrast from Friday when it mounted a comeback two sets down.
UF obliterated the Tigers both on the court and on the stat sheet. They totaled 47 kills to the Tigers’ 30 and committed just seven errors across three sets of competition. Florida also combined for a .513 team hitting percentage.
Holly Carlton led the Gators Saturday. The Sterling, Virginia, native notched a hitting percentage of .733 and tallied 12 kills on a .800 kill percentage. Redshirt junior T’ara Ceasar added 10 kills of her own, while junior Marlie Monserez accounted for 39 of the team’s 45 assists.
“Coming from Missouri's point of view, a reverse sweep is a really hard feeling, so we knew they would come out with extra fire,” Carlton said. “But we wanted to sweep last night, and we didn't get that, so we also had that fire to come out tonight really strong in that first set, which I think set the tone for the whole night.”
The Gators came out of the gates firing and won the first five points of the opening set. They jumped out to an 11-3 lead before the Tigers took their first timeout and tried to regroup. The break didn’t slow Florida’s momentum, however, as it expanded its lead to 17-5 and forced Mizzou to take another timeout.
Florida kept its foot on the gas out of the timeout and took the opening set 25-10. The team connected on an absurd 71.4% of its hits and didn’t commit an error. Redshirt junior Lauren Forte and junior Lauren Dooley claimed 1.000 hitting percentages.
The Tigers woke up in the second set and kept it close early. They managed to take a 6-5 lead before Florida went on a run. The Gators rattled off five straight points and jumped out to a 10-6 lead. The two sides traded blows throughout the remainder of the set. Mizzou cut the lead to three but never got closer than that. Florida pulled away and won the set 25-19. The Gators came back to earth a bit statically but still had an effective second set and possessed a .429 hitting percentage, 15 kills and just three errors.
The Gators kept things rolling in what proved to be the final set and got out to a 10-5 lead. The Tigers’ faint hopes dwindled as the set went on. Despite the score staying relatively close, Mizzou never took back the lead after its early 3-2 advantage. Florida managed to shut down any comeback attempts before they began and won the third set 25-18.
Simply put, the Gators looked like two different teams from one day to the next. Head coach Mary Wise credits the difference to the team’s consistency.
“We weren’t giving away points,” Wise said. “We made some really good decisions as hitters and setters. To hit 513 against the quality opponent of Missouri is pretty eye-popping honestly, and held them under 100 so, it was on both ends.”
Wise was also impressed with the team’s maturity and their ability to bounce back from an emotional game Friday and even added that the players were “incredibly locked in.”
Looking ahead, Florida must tackle their toughest test yet next weekend against the No. 3 Kentucky Wildcats. However, Carlton feels great as the Gators enter the battle.
“We've been looking forward to the homestretch of the season for a while,” Carlton said. “It's been a long fall and spring of building and getting better, but I couldn't be happier with how the team's been performing over the last few matches.”
The Gators will need to play like the team that showed up Saturday next weekend against Kentucky. The Wildcats claim a perfect 15-0 record on the year and stand in Florida’s way as its biggest threat in both the regular season and beyond.
Contact Michael Hull at email@example.com and follow him on Twitter @Michael_Hull33
Michael Hull is a fourth-year journalism sports & media major and a sports writer at The Alligator. He hosts the weekly sports podcast and has worked on staff for five semesters. In the past, Hull has served as the sports editor, the men's and women's golf beat writer, the volleyball beat writer and the football beat writer.