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Tuesday, January 18, 2022

Gators sweep Hurricanes in final game at the O’Dome

No. 21 Florida will advance to the Sweet 16 for a potential matchup against No. 1 Louisville

Florida's Thayer Hall serves during an Oct. 16 match against Texas A&M.
Florida's Thayer Hall serves during an Oct. 16 match against Texas A&M.

With one point separating the No. 16-seeded Florida Gators and a berth in the Sweet 16, senior Marlie Monserez set up the ball for senior Thayer Hall. The duo had gone through the same movements like clockwork for the past four years, and now, it was time to send home the kill one last time in the O’Connell Center.

Kill, Hall. Match, Gators.

Florida emerged victorious in its’ second round matchup Friday against the Miami Hurricanes, dominating the visitors from down south in a three-set home sweep (25-15, 25-20, 25-16) at the O’Dome to advance to the third round of the NCAA Tournament.

After redshirt senior T’ara Ceasar announced she would not be competing with Florida in the NCAA Tournament, the question filtered in about how the Gators could replace her scoring prowess. 

Just like the team did against Florida A&M in round one, Florida’s depth was up to the challenge.

The late-season emergence of Victoria continued early in the first set, scoring half of the Gators’ first six points en route to an early lead. The Puerto Rico native finished the opening set with six kills and a hitting percentage of .625. 

Hall also made her presence known, recording three straight kills that bloomed the lead to 10-5. She finished set one hitting .500 with seven kills. After an ace from freshman Merritt Beason pushed Florida’s score to 11, Hurricanes head coach Jose Gandara called a timeout to try to calm the storm.

After the stoppage, the Gators coasted on the lead they created and never let Miami close in. 

A Hall kill followed by a Miami attack error pushed the lead to its largest of the set, 10 points, and forced Gandara to use his second timeout of the set as the score. The Hurricanes scored two points out of the timeout. With Hall serving, Victoria then prevented any late-set comeback and sealed set one with a kill, 25-15. 

Picking up right where they left off, the Gators rattled off three straight points to open the second set. Hall and senior Lauren Forte proved dominant at the net, registering back-to-back blocks against Miami. The Hurricanes responded with the kind of desperation a team trailing in an elimination match should display, scoring six straight.

With momentum quickly slipping away, head coach Mary Wise called a timeout to reset her lineup. It inverted the tides, and Florida surged back into the lead with a 5-2 run.

“That had to be one of our best defensive performances of the year,” Wise said. “I don’t think that happens without that group, and that meaning the fans. The energy that was felt in the O’Dome has been here all year and it was certainly felt tonight.”

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Forte continued to have a productive second set, scoring a kill to push the score to 13-10. After the Hurricanes pulled back within two, Forte delved back to the arsenal and fired another cannon— 14-11. 

Both teams traded three points before Miami called a timeout, the score now 17-14 off of another Victoria kill.

“I think her [Victoria] energy is just unmatched,” Monserez said. “My favorite part of the game and in the middle of the match she looked at me and she goes, ‘I just love playing with this group.’ That makes it worth it, it makes it fun.”

Despite a Miami surge, a Beason kill kickstarted a four-point run from Florida that drew the Gators within two of the set. At a score of 23-18, Gandara called his second timeout of the set. A Miami attack error out of the timeout brought set point, and while ‘Canes were able to stave off defeat with two points, a Beason kill iced out the set, 25-20.

Florida opened the third set on another roll, scoring three straight points to open the set and scoring seven of the first eight points. Looking shell shocked, the Hurricanes returned to the bench for a discussion after Gandara called the first timeout of the third set.

Both teams began to trade points, but the set, and thus the match, remained out of reach. 

Florida freshman Bre Kelly finally broke through the defense, scoring point 24. Hall closed it out with a kill, and the Gators scored their final point of the season in the O’Dome. Next stop: the Sweet 16. Florida awaits the winner of the match between No.1 seeded Louisville and Ball State.

“Every team can be so different,” Wise said. “There’s just a vibe with this group right now.”

Contact Carson Cashion at ccashion@alligator.org. Follow him on Twitter @carsoncashion.

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