South Carolina setter Claire Wilson tossed the ball and launched it over the net to serve. Florida wasted no time as setter Marlie Monserez lined up the ball before outside hitter Sofia Victoria swiftly struck down the match-sealing kill.
The No. 20 Gators volleyball team (19-6, 13-2 SEC) swept the South Carolina Gamecocks (14-12, 6-10 SEC) Saturday afternoon in the O’Connell Center (25-14, 25-22, 25-16). Florida outplayed the Gamecocks with a .454 hitting percentage and 55 kills, with South Carolina finishing with at .231 and 37 kills.
Outside hitter T’ara Ceasar once again led the Gators with 13 kills in the match, followed by outside hitter Thayer Hall with 11. Middle blocker Bre Kelley put together quite the afternoon with eight kills and five blocks of her own with a .583 hitting percentage.
“(Kelley) just keeps getting better with experience,” head coach Mary Wise said. “She’s got a great motor, and now she’s using the motor with her IQ to be a point scorer for us.”
The energy in the O’Dome fueled the Gators in the opening set. Kelley made her presence known immediately, slamming down two kills and assisting in three blocks to get UF to a 6-0 lead. An early South Carolina timeout didn’t hinder the Gators spunk. The Gamecocks continued to suffer from early attack errors, recording six by the time Florida hit double-digit points.
The crowd grew louder following kills by Ceasar, Hall and outside hitter Merritt Beason, doubling the Gators lead over the Gamecocks to 16-8. Florida couldn’t be stopped, and a Victoria kill sealed the first set 25-14.
The Gamecocks assumed and maintained the lead for the first time in the match after registering two kills each from middle blocker Ellie Ruprich and outside hitter Kyla Manning, now 8-3.
Florida inched its way up from five points down to close the scoring deficit. Hall and Beason kills followed by a Gamecocks attack error tied the set at 15 apiece. South Carolina called a timeout to try and maintain its second-set fury, but Florida reclaimed the lead at 17-15 after yet another Gamecocks attack error and a bad set by setter Mallory Dixon.
“I think we lost track of our consistency with passing,” Hall said. “Once we have that confidence back under our wings, I think there’s nothing that can stop us.”
Seesaw scoring ensued with the Gamecocks desperate to reclaim their earlier lead. Florida never let them, however, with kills by Monserez and Hall keeping the score in the Gators favor. A service error by South Carolina’s outside hitter Riley Whitesides was the second set’s deciding factor, 25-22 Florida.
Kelley began the third set as she did the first: with a thunderous kill. The Gators played lights out to make it 13-7 with several kills from Florida’s starting line: Ceasar (5), Hall (2), Beason (2) and middle blocker Lauren Forte (1).
Two closely called South Carolina timeouts didn’t do anything to hinder Florida’s roll. A huge kill by Hall at 23-14 ignited fans as match point closed in. South Carolina delayed Florida’s victory with a final Manning kill, but Victoria finished the job with a kill of her own.
Fans rose from their seats as the Gators secured their sweep over South Carolina, now their eighth consecutive win.
“On night two, it does not matter what happened on night one,” Wise said. “South Carolina has some elite arms...and they can put pressure on you with their serve game.”
The two teams meet again tomorrow in the O’Dome at 2 p.m.
Contact Kaitlyn Wadulack at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter at @kwadulack.