Outside hitter Thayer Hall regained her focus with match point on the line. The senior took a deep breath, paused and struck the ball to serve. The Bulldogs scrambled to try and set up a kill, but not before the brick wall of middle blocker Lauren Dooley and outside hitter Merritt Beason shut down Bulldog opposite hitter Kayla Rivera.
The No. 22 Florida Gators surged back from a five-point deficit late in the third to sweep the Georgia Bulldogs 3-0 (25-14, 25-17, 26-24) Wednesday night in Athens, Georgia.
The win highlighted the return of Lauren Forte after head coach Mary Wise confirmed Sept. 19 that the middle blocker had suffered an ankle sprain. The redshirt senior dished out eight kills on the night with a .375 hitting percentage.
The opening set swayed between the conference rivals to begin the match. A big swing and a kill from Hall ignited a four-point scoring run by Florida before Georgia called its first timeout at 13-8.
Georgia gave easy points to the Gators, with five attack errors just in the first set to propel Florida to a 5-0 run featuring kills from Dooley and outside hitter T’ara Ceasar, the lead now 19-9. The Bulldogs tried to close the gap, but a Dooley kill sealed the first set, 25-14 Gators.
The Gators kept their first set pace at the start of the second. Four Florida kills from libero Elli McKissock, Forte, Ceasar and Beason edged the Gators to an early 8-3 lead. Florida continued its offensive dominance until Georgia went on to score four straight points and pull within seven, 23-16.
This forced head coach Mary Wise called her first timeout of the second set to give Florida a chance to regroup. Despite another kill by Rivera, the Gators persisted for a 25-17 second set win, a sweep in sight.
Georgia wasn’t about to go down quietly. Even after the Gators tied up the third set at four points apiece with a Forte kill, the Bulldogs kept its late second-set momentum up. Two Rivera kills and two Florida attack errors gave Georgia an 8-4 lead.
The Gators initially struggled to grasp their fingertips over Georgia's lead. Florida’s 10th service error and ninth attack error of the match, respectively, led to a Gators timeout, down 20-15. This proved to be exactly what Florida needed.
The Gators went on a 6-1 run to tie the match yet again, now 21 apiece. Georgia profited off of a Ceasar service error and a Dooley attack error to make it 23-21, but two Hall kills and an ace from setter Marlie Monserez kept Florida’s hope of a sweep alive and regained the lead, 24-23. A last-ditch kill by Bulldogs outside hitter Amber Stivrins extended the match, but Dooley and Beason’s block cemented Florida’s sweep over Georgia, 26-24.
The Gators head back to the O’Connell Center for a weekend double header against Ole Miss beginning Saturday at 3 p.m.
Contact Kaitlyn Wadulack at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter at @kwadulack.