Florida coach Mary Wise said after practice on Wednesday that the one-two combo of outside hitters Thayer Hall and T’ara Ceasar could, in time, prove to be a deadly one.
Wise can’t have expected it to take two days for the combination to reach its potency.
The duo was dominant in Florida’s three-set win over Alabama (25-18, 25-22, 25-18) Friday night at the O’Connell Center before a crowd of nearly 2,000 fans. They combined for 68%, or 32 of Florida’s 47 total kills.
“From the back row to the front row and the seat of the offense, we were able to stretch teams,” Wise said post-match. “And that’s not easy to do against Alabama who is aggressive serving.”
This was the Gators first home match since November 30, 2019. The crowd, which was about 19% of its normal maximum, had to wear masks and follow social distancing protocols.
Hall still felt like the fans made an impact on the match despite its reduced size.
“It was definitely worth the wait,” she said. “It felt so good to be back at home and see people in the stands. It had been a while since I had seen faces I didn’t recognize.”
UF entered Friday’s match a perfect 47-0 all-time against the Crimson Tide, but you couldn’t tell in the first set. Alabama played well early on, with the two teams tied at 12 at one point. But Florida went on a 3-0 run heading into the media timeout and carried that momentum to a 25-18 win. Setter Marlie Monserez served the final two points of the set.
Hall was assertive from the get-go, finishing with seven kills, but Ceasar struggled, especially compared to how well she played against Auburn. The junior had just three kills.
Some of this could be chalked up to anxiety. The transfer from Georgia said she was nervous to play her first match at the O’Connell Center.
The momentum that the Gators had in the first set didn’t carry over into the second, as the forceful Crimson Tide refused to let the Gators pull away. There were 12 ties and seven lead changes in the second frame.
Eventually, thanks to improved play from Ceasar, Florida pulled away and took the second set 25-22. Ceasar concluded the set with six kills, the same as Hall.
UF didn’t mess around with the feisty Tide in the third set, putting up its best hitting percentage of the season thus far (0.464), and rolling to a 25-18 win.
Alabama had cut it down to 11-9 at one point in the set, but a service run from Monserez increased the lead to five, and it couldn’t get any closer than that.
Hall and Ceasar were once again unstoppable in the final frame, racking up a combined seven kills. Hall ended the night with 19, while Ceasar had 13.
But they were far from the only stars for Florida.
Senior Holly Carlton finished with six kills, and Monserez had 38 assists. That was 35 more than anyone else on the team.
“To see her growth and her running our offense has been amazing to watch,” Hall said about Monserez. “The role she plays in our offense isn’t easy and she does it with such beauty and grace.”
Monserez’s performance helped UF end with a .404 hitting percentage, its highest mark of the season.
The Gators will be back in action Saturday against Alabama at 3 p.m.
Contact Noah Ram at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter @Noah_ram1.