Holly Carlton

Holly Carlton at last year's home game versus Kentucky. Carlton had an impressive showing in South Carolina to help the Gators win their first match against a ranked opponent in 2020.

Redshirt senior Holly Carlton spent most of her offseason alone because of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

But the absence of a net, a court or her teammates didn’t stop her from improving. 

“I’ve personally just been trying to get a really good touch on the ball,” Carlton told The Alligator on May 12. “So being able to do some self-taught hitting reps to get a really good feel for the ball on my hands to hopefully have better control of my shots when I get back to playing.”

That hard work paid off Wednesday night against South Carolina. She scored 10 kills on 18 swings for a .500 hitting percentage and blocked four attacks from Gamecocks hitters. 

Florida defeated South Carolina in straight-sets Wednesday night in Columbia, South Carolina, in its first ranked matchup this season. 

To start the match, the No. 4 Gators stormed out of the gates, jumping out to a 7-2 lead. The  No. 15 Gamecocks answered by trimming their lead to four at 9-5.

Then, Florida (5-0) ballooned its lead to 18-8 behind an 9-3 run. It looked poised to cruise to a first-set victory like UF has in its previous four matches.

But, the Gamecocks (4-3) launched their own 9-3 run to climb back into the set that cut the Gators lead to 21-17, forcing coach Mary Wise to call a timeout.

After the timeout, her squad regained its composure and finished the first set on a 4-0 run, allowing Florida to win the first set 25-17. 

Junior outside hitter Thayer Hall was lights out. She collected six kills on 10 swings, adding two digs and blocks in the set. Florida as a team hit .385 and dished out 13 assists. 

The Gamecocks also gave UF 10 points on service and attack errors. 

The second set mimicked the first set almost to a tee. Florida took a 4-0 lead early in the second frame, but South Carolina climbed back, trimming the Gators’ lead to 7-6. 

After trading blows back and forth, UF eventually clawed its way to secure a seven-point lead at 20-13. USC wouldn’t respond, allowing the Gators to win the second set 25-17. 

Carlton was crucial in this set, adding six kills. Monserez also contributed 10 assists. 

The Gamecocks took their first lead of the match in the third set. Florida started off strong, securing a 5-2 lead. However, South Carolina ignited a 6-1 run to take the 8-6 lead. 

Florida fought back to tie the set at 11 apiece, and the lead seesawed until the score reached 15 apiece. The Gators then seized a two point lead at 17-15.

Then, a service error from junior libero Paula Cerame gave South Carolina a sliver of hope. They took full advantage, starting a 5-0 run to reclaim the lead at 22-21.

Florida surged back, scoring four-straight points to take the sweep. It beat the Gamecocks 25-17, 25-17, 25-22.

The Gators return to the Carolina Volleyball Center to play the second match of their double-header against South Carolina at 3 p.m. It can be seen live on SEC Network+.

Contact Zachary Huber at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter @zacharyahuber.

Zachary Huber covers men's tennis for the Alligator. This is his first semester working for The Alligator. He's a junior studying journalism at UF.