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Saturday, January 28, 2023

No. 22 Florida shuts down Arkansas in first of two matches

The Gators secured their fifth consecutive match win a sweep over the Razorbacks Friday

Florida volleyball's Thayer Hall readies for action during a game against Mississippi State on Sept. 24.
Florida volleyball's Thayer Hall readies for action during a game against Mississippi State on Sept. 24.

The Gators outside hitter Thayer Hall served the ball over the net to Arkansas. Razorbacks setter Gracie Ryan attempted to set up middle blocker Abigail Archibong for the potential kill. 

Instead, the ball flailed to the floor, and Florida clinched a 3-0 sweep over Arkansas (25-12, 25-19, 25-20) Friday night in Fayetteville, Arkansas, to secure its fifth straight win. 

The Gators overpowered the Razorbacks with .365 hitting percentage and 45 kills, while Arkansas could only muster a .118 hitting percentage and 31 kills.  

Outside hitter T’ara Ceasar was the Gators key offensive weapon in the match. The redshirt senior recorded a team-high 17 kills on the night with a .552 hitting percentage. Florida middle blocker Lauren Forte dished out eight kills of her own and served as a brick wall against Arkansas’ offense with 10 blocks. 

Florida seized control of the opening set early. Ceasar ignited Florida’s flame with four kills to stretch the Gators’ lead to 10-4. Arkansas tried to wake up its offense, but the Gators played lights out. A late 9-1 Gators run served as the final straw to seal the first set 25-12. 

Set two initially revitalized the Razorbacks. Arkansas took the lead for the first time in the match at 5-4 after a Ryan block. This lead faded quickly, however, as the Gators prospered via a 9-2 run, forcing Arkansas to call a timeout down 13-7. 

The Razorbacks shrunk the scoring gap to 15-13 after a Gators’ attack error, an Archibong kill and an ace by defensive specialist Lauren Evans. Florida head coach Mary Wise then signaled for a timeout, proving to be exactly what her team needed. 

The Gators emerged from the timeout unstoppable. A 6-1 run featuring kills from Ceasar (2), outside hitter Merritt Beason and setter Marlie Monserez lead to Arkansas’ second timeout, now down 21-14. Despite a last-ditch effort to halt set point, the Razorbacks fell once again to the Gators, 25-19.

The third set began with the two teams trading points before Florida slammed on the gas. The Gators kept Arkansas an arms length away, leaping ahead 15-10. The Razorbacks attempted to climb the steep scoring deficit, closing in by one after a kill by outside hitter Taylor Head. This would be Arkansas’ closest taste of set victory. 

Even with back-to-back challenges, the Razorbacks couldn’t stir up anything more. A bad set by Ryan gave Florida its fifth straight win, 25-20.

The two teams meet again Saturday at 6 p.m. as Florida looks to extend its win streak to six. 

Contact Kaitlyn Wadulack at kwadulack@alligator.org. Follow her on Twitter at @kwadulack.

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