The No. 11 Florida volleyball team puts its undefeated SEC record on the line tonight in Columbia, South Carolina, when it takes on the Gamecocks at 7.
Freshman Thayer Hall stared intensely through the net at Georgia’s side of the court with he…
The Gators (15-3, 6-0 SEC) pushed their win streak to eleven matches after two heart-stopping five-set winners last weekend against Texas A&M and Georgia.
“This weekend, we really got challenged a lot,” setter Allie Monserez said to the media on Tuesday. “We were able to see some of our weaknesses and learn from a lot of things.”
One of those weaknesses, Monserez specified, was digging balls on the defensive side.
This issue was especially evident against the Aggies on Friday when the defense allowed Aggies’ outside hitter Hollann Hans to hit 32 kills on .260 hitting percentage and was out-dug 72-64 in the match.
The team won, but the back-row defense appeared to be a huge liability.
“You can learn more about yourself from a loss than a win,” coach Mary Wise said. “We were very fortunate to get the best of both, meaning that we played two opponents that played very well and exposed some weaknesses but were still able to win.”
Both Monserez and Wise expressed that the back-row defense will be a focus in practice leading up to the match against South Carolina.
In the front row, however, it couldn’t have been better.
Senior middle blocker Taelor Kellum was named SEC Player of the Week on Tuesday after she tallied 17 blocks during the weekend, including a career-best 12-block performance on Sunday against Georgia that helped keep the Gators’ undefeated conference record intact.
Kellum, however, feels that others on the team were more deserving of the award.
“If you look at the stats, it was just block assists,” Kellum said laughing. “I had one block solo. The rest were the help of Holly (Carlton), the help of Paige (Hammons) and the other players around me that made me look that good.”
The team defense in the front row continues to be the strength of this UF team. The Gators rank No. 24 in the country in blocks per set (2.63) and is a major reason why Florida’s opponent hitting percentage (.155) is ranked No. 16 nationally.
Wise said that she found it surprising that Kellum is earning accolades for her defense when it has been her offense that has benefited the team the most.
The senior’s efficient attacking has been clutch in recent performances. Of her last four matches, Kellum has hit for .400 or better in three of them.
She and the rest of the front row will need to continue the strong play, both offensively and defensively, against a tough South Carolina team.
The Gamecocks are led by their senior libero Aubrey Ezell, who leads the defense in digs with 212.
Ezell’s quick feet and small, 5-foot-8 frame gives her a wide range in the back row and is a primary reason why her team sports an impressive .183 opponent hitting percentage.
South Carolina is also dangerous from behind the line. The Gamecocks come into tonight’s match ranked seventh in the nation in aces per set (1.82). Ezell heads her team in that area as well with her 46 service aces.
Florida’s struggling back row will have a difficult test against the accurate and robust serving of Ezell and the rest of the South Carolina team.
Follow Dylan Rudolph on Twitter @dyrudolph or contact him at [email protected].