Holly Carlton

Now-senior Holly Carlton at Florida's game versus Kentucky last season. In the Gators' Thursday night match against Auburn, Carlton recorded six kills.

Despite an unconventional, pandemic-hindered offseason, the Gators hit the court for the first time Wednesday. Everything suddenly felt conventional that night in Auburn, Alabama, though, including the win.

With two easy three-set wins, the Gators swept Auburn to start the season 2-0.

And it was far from the first time UF had bested Auburn. Florida came into Wednesday’s match 49-2 all-time against the Tigers, 36-0 in three-set matches. UF entered the season No. 4 – its 29th straight season ranked in the top 15 – while Auburn began unranked. The Gators were picked to finish second in the SEC this season, while the Tigers under first- year head coach Brent Crouch were spotted 13th – last in the conference.

Florida finished the two-match doubleheader with 20 more kills, 21 more assists and three more digs than Auburn. The Tigers were held to a hitting percentage below .100 both nights, while the Gators hit over .230.

Many of UF’s top performers were familiar names to the UF volleyball faithful. Junior outside hitter Thayer Hall was second in kills Wednesday night with nine, and senior Holly Carlton finished in the same position Thursday night with six kills. Similarly, solid showings were put in by senior Paige Hammons and assist wizard junior Marlie Monserez, who finished the week with a combined 62 assists.

However, the top dog on the plains was the team’s much awaited newcomer in outside hitter T’ara Ceasar. The transfer from Georgia came to Gainesville in November 2018 with an already long list of accolades to her name, including All-SEC honors in 2017 and playing in China as a member of the USA Women’s Collegiate National Team in the summer of 2018.

But due to NCAA transfer rules, she had to sit out the 2019 season.

She received high praise this year, though, including from coach Mary Wise.

"T'ara is one of those volleyball players that has just excelled and blossomed in college at a rate that is such a reflection of her work ethic, her skill set and the coaching she has received,” Wise said in a release.

Florida fans finally got the opportunity to see her Wednesday night, and she lived up to the billing. Ceasar accumulated 25 total kills, which led the squad and tallied the most aces on the team.

Ceasar wasn’t the only UF newcomer to see time on the court, however. Freshman Elli McKissock collected 10 digs and saw her first play in the libero jersey Thursday night in the clinching third set.

It is expected to be more of what was seen this past week for the orange and blue during this shortened 2020 season. The three remaining SEC teams on UF’s schedule – Alabama, South Carolina and Georgia – are all unranked. None of them were projected to finish in the top 5 in the SEC preseason poll.

Contact Noah Ram at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter @Noah_ram1.

Noah Ram is the gymnastics beat writer. He previously covered men's and women's tennis. He is a sophomore majoring in journalism and this is his third semester at The Alligator.